Planet Earth: Future Haze

As I sat down to write more about the subject of pre-millennialism, I asked my husband how he remembers this and that. So he’s handed me several books on the subject of prophecy. About a weeks’ worth of reading. 🙂 Prophecy is so complex and so much could be written, but I’d really like to keep this simple for those of you who are interested in reading it.
Let’s start in the dim distant past….

The Dormant Pre-millennial Doctrine Starts to Grow

According to Dave MacPherson in his book, The Incredible Cover-Up – © 1975 by Logos International – there was some pre-millennial thinking in the US colonies before 1830. It did rise somewhat during the mid-1800s with currents blowing in from a mini charismatic revival in Scotland and England, together with J N Darby’s teachings. It really began to take hold during the Civil War and by the 1870s folks were starting to say this was the only biblical understanding of the end times.

John Nelson Darby has had a huge impact on evangelical thinking in various ways. Born in 1800, Darby became a priest in the church of England in 1826, but after a time was burdened about the dissatisfaction he felt in his own Christian life. He had an experience where he came to understand that salvation can never be earned; it comes only through faith in Jesus Christ. Feeling like he’d been cleansed and set free, he began an attack on the Church of England for not guiding him aright.

According to Frank’s book, Christians of that era – especially in the US – were upbeat, seeing the Christian church as an army “marching forth triumphantly to spread the gospel and inaugurate the millenium.” As in the song, “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” Evangelicals were right ready to trample those grapes of wrath: slavery, booze, and whatever other sins they saw as drawbacks to the coming kingdom.

Jesus said, “…upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Matt 16:18

Darby disagreed. “The church is in ruins,” he said. The established church was broken beyond repair and believers who wanted to carry on the true Christian faith should abandon churches and assemble as small groups of believers without a formal organization or title. Calling themselves “Christians gathered in the name of the Lord,” the group has become known as the Plymouth Brethren.

The Church As the Spiritual Successor to Israel

This was a commonly accepted belief prior to Darby’s time. Pre-, Post- and A-millennialists were agreed: Israel ceased to be God’s people when they rejected Christ and the Church became the spiritual successor of Israel. Theologians and preachers taught that all believers are now the people of God, both Jews and gentiles. As the Apostle Paul writes:

“Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all. Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.” Colossians 3: 11-14

Darby nixed this belief, too. Rather, he claimed that the Christian church is God’s heavenly kingdom and Israel is still God’s earthly people. Even though the Jews were unfaithful in keeping the laws of Moses, Darby said, God will still follow through with his promise to make Israel a great nation. Someday. We just need to understand the time frame for this.

“The Only Credible Explanation of Scripture”

Analyzing and “rightly dividing” he came up with the doctrine of dispensationalism. This doctrine divides history into six different eras, or dispensations. The Bible, to scholars who embraced his ideas, became like a jigsaw puzzle with various verses neatly divided and reconstructed into “easy-to-understand” eras. My grasp is hazy; a real Bible scholar who follows Darby’s thinking wold have this down pat.

The time of Adam & Eve and their descendants is one; the time of Noah and his ark is another; The Israelites of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob’s time is another. When Israel settled in the Promised Land and became a country is another. I think Jesus time on earth is part of that era, but then we have the Gospel era – the time since Christ – which, according to these teachers, is an interruption of God’s plan. The future “Thousand Year Reign of Christ on earth” is counted as another. I may not have these all as they are taught today, but you get the general idea.

Here in North America a theologian, minister, and writer named Cyrus I Scofield caught the vision of dispensationalism. He felt it was the only credible explanation for many Bible passages and set about to publish it. His annotated Scofield Reference Bible, with its explanations and cross references, became a best-seller and dispensationalism was widely accepted by evangelicals in North America.

The Rapture: Secret or Open?

Will cars crash, planes fall from the sky, teachers, workers, students disappear in a poof? According to the “secret rapture” thinking, Yes. According to other interpretations of prophecy, No. When Jesus returns to this earth, everyone will know it.

The a-millennial view has been that when Jesus returns in the clouds, the archangel will sound the trumpet and all Jesus children will be gathered up to glory with him. The Rapture will be a one-time thing, open for all to see. At that time the earth and the sea will give up their dead and those responsible for crucifying him “Will look upon him whom they have pierced.” Those who have rejected him will be so dismayed and afraid, they will, “will cry to the rocks and the hill to cover them” from his face.

As to the “time of great tribulation” foretold by Jesus, that mainly took place at the destruction of Jerusalem. The Christians of that day did forsake the city, as Jesus warned them to, when they saw the Roman army gathering around it. (To some extent this tribulation has been going on since, as Christians have been persecuted and many still are.)

The post-millennial idea is much the same. When Jesus comes back “every eye shall see him.” They understand from various scriptures that he will return to earth at the end of a period of great tribulation (which is going on now) and set up his kingdom, but they say it’s the church herself that will usher in this millennium of peace. As I said in an early post, that theory has about disappeared.

The Pre-Millennial Theory: Four Different Camps

According to Dave MacPherson, there are four positions re: the millennium to come:
— those who espouse the “pretrib” theory say there will be a secret Rapture where all Christians drawn up from the earth to meet Jesus before the time of tribulation comes, so that no Christians need to suffer through the natural disasters and war that will befall this earth.
— those who think “mid-trib” see the Rapture coming somewhere in the middle of these seven years of tribulation.
— Those who espouse the “post-trib” theory sees the Rapture as coming at the end of the seven years of tribulation
— partial rapturists who believe there will be more than one Rapture, which may occur at several points before/during/after the time of tribulation.

“Pre-trib rapture” was unheard of before Darby visited a fifteen-year old Scottish girl who, in 1830, had a vision about Jesus’ return. From her vision of a select group of Christians being carried away secretly, Darby built his “pretrib” teaching. According to Douglas Frank, Darby came to North American seven times between 1862 and 1877 to share his doctrinal system with evangelicals and it caught on. Christians were glad to hear that they’d be removed before the coming woes.

Back home in England, any of his fellow Plymouth Brethren who didn’t agree with him over these doctrines were threatened with excommunication and eternal punishment. For all that, over the years the Plymouth Brethren have had various schisms resulting in PB 2, PB 3, PB 4, etc. We once met a couple from Plymouth Brethren Four, and that was a very strict group. For one thing, services every evening — and you’d better be there!

Dave MacPherson, a preacher’s kid and preacher’s grandkid, grew up hearing prophecy discussed. However, he found that Bible teachers weren’t very open to viewpoints other than their own:
“In my Bible institute days I learned the hard way that there are sharply disagreeing schools of prophetic interpretation. I would discuss prophecy at various times with other students and bring up viewpoints differing in detail from the school’s official position.
This finally resulted in my dismissal.”

Did Jesus Fail to Establish the Kingdom God Intended?

Some of this premillennial thinking is built on the idea that Jesus planned to set up the kingdom, but when he was rejected, that plan was scrapped.

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given…” applied to Jesus first visit to Earth.
But… “He came unto his own, and his own received him not…”

So, according to pre-millennial thinking, when the Jewish nation rejected Jesus and had him done away with, he went back up to heaven and Plan B kicked in. Or was Plan B always the real plan because God knew Jesus would be rejected? Depends on the Bible scholar that’s teaching this.

Plan B – which again varies according to who’s explaining it – is that Jesus will return twice – or maybe three times before his work on earth is finished. He’ll come for his church (secretly or not, once or twice.) Seven years of severe tribulation will befall the earth. Then he will come again openly, bringing all the saints with him, and set up his headquarters in Jerusalem. He and his saints will rule over all the earth. Israel will be a great nation again. All the people of earth will obey him.

In 1919 J.C. Masee wrote:
“I am not looking for an immediate residence in Heaven. I expect to be there only a little time and then I am coming back with him to live in a redeemed earth, and rule here with him in the earth. I would regret to believe that I would have to spend my thousand years in heaven. The reward of the saints is to have the privilege of coming back with Jesus to reign here over the nations with him.
(Philadelphia School of the Bible)

At the end of the thousand-year reign (the Millenium), there will be a major satanic-led rebellion and Jesus will totally crush this. Then will come the great Judgment Day. This present earth and heaven will pass away; in a new heaven and earth Jesus will take his rightful throne and “the government will be on his shoulders and his kingdom will be an everlasting one.”

For Lo! The Kingdom of God is Within You.

As you can guess, I don’t accept the pre-millennial thinking of our day, nor do I put a lot of faith in prophetic speculation as a whole. I’m far more concerned with TODAY. What will come, will come. I believe many Christians feel somewhat the same: it’s interesting to speculate, but so many verses can be understood in different ways, literal or figurative. The most important thing is, “What do I need to know to live my Christian life today?

And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. – Ezekiel 36: 27

Religion and Politics: A Curious Home Brew

In this post I’m going to deviate somewhat from my discussion of prophecy and give you a glimpse of my own upbringing. Maybe you’ll understand more clearly where I’m coming from as I post these thoughts.

My Religious Instruction

When I was a girl, Mom F told me, “If you ever have to go to the hospital, or any other time someone asks you your religion, say United.”

Because this is what we were. Period. Not that we ever attended church. I can recall going to a couple of services with my Mom F, and once, when I was in my late twenties, my Dad actually came with us to an evangelical church service for some special day. Dad & Mom Vance (my birth parents) never attended church as adults, to my knowledge.

The United Church of Canada would be about like the United Methodist Church in the US. In 1925 the Canadian Methodists, most Presbyterians, and the Congregationalists merged to form the United Church. This was the predominant church here in the West, with congregations in almost every town and city.

“The Social Gospel” teaching – “We need to fix this world!” – was spreading through evangelical circles at the end of the 1800s and the Methodists definitely picked up on it. In time the social gospel became the United Church’s main religious teaching, leading them to get involved in agitating for human rights, universal suffrage, fair labor laws, etc.
One time a cartoonist spoofed a United Church message board this way:
Sunday morning service. 10 am. Message: The Hell of High-Cost Housing
Evening service 7:30 pm. Message: God and the Minimum Wage
His “nail-on-the-head” humor makes me chuckle.

By the time I was an adult, United Church members needn’t accept the authority of Jesus or the Bible – or even believe in God, we discovered – but they HAD to be pro civil rights and against all discrimination, inequality in wages, etc. Attendance has dwindled, but this is still the position of the United Church.

As soon as I was old enough, and for half a dozen summers, Mom sent me to a week of Baptist Bible camp. So I did get some exposure to evangelical thinking and did call myself a Christian, but attending church services wasn’t for us. Only after I was married to I start.

The Politics of My Parents

(The other topic you’re not supposed to discuss.)
“We vote Conservative.” End of subject.

Informed voters? Not really. They knew who the Liberal, Conservative, and NDP candidates were, but at the polls there was only one party to support: the Conservatives. Because the Liberals were for the East, for the big cities, for the French. The New Democrats were for labor. Folks from a rural prairie background were dyed-in-the-wool Conservatives. I remember an election when I was twelve where every seat in our province – most of the prairie seats – went Conservative.

When I was a girl Mom told me about an old farmer here in the West who was watching a political broadcast on his television. He got so angry about the things Liberal Prime Minister Lester Pearson was saying that he got his shotgun and blasted the tv. Not a very well thought-out response. But perhaps it was for the best. Someone with that kind of a fuse is probably better off not listening to political speeches.

Politics Generates More Heat Than Good Sense

Actually, I suspect most people would be better off not listening to political speeches. It’s so easy to be swayed by charisma, promises, and wishful thinking — or the lack thereof. Not to mention the biased, sensationalist reporting of what was said and done, such as we get these days. Accusations fly freely, pro and con this or that, until no one actually sees clearly anymore.

My folks didn’t have enough concern about religion for it to have much impact on their politics. They knew they hated Liberals; otherwise politics wasn’t a topic often discussed. In the United States, on the other hand – according to Douglas Frank’s book* – religious views and prophetic theories often motivated Protestant Evangelical Christians in their political choices. The unique blend of religion and politics we see in the States seems to the rest of us like a curious home brew. Sadly, non-evangelicals are finding it – maybe have always found it – bitter.

Did evangelicals in the past simply ignore the complaints until they got too loud to ignore? But then Prohibition was a major disaster; divorce laws were challenged; Roe versus Wade cracked the abortion laws open, the LGBT community pushed for acceptance. Like the veil in the temple, the US status quo was rent from top to bottom.

Reading various comments these days, I get the impression that – in spite of current religious stats – evangelicals still hope they can bring America back to the Christian nation they believe they once had. I often see PEC’s quote these verses God spoke in reference to Israel:

“And the LORD appeared to Solomon by night, and said unto him, I have heard thy prayer, and have chosen this place to myself for an house of sacrifice. If I shut up heaven that there be no rain, or if I command the locusts to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among my people; If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”

It seems to me that PEC’s, like all of us during this pandemic, are wishing for a return to “the good old days.” They’re saying America could be fixed if everyone would turn back to God – but people aren’t listening. Perhaps they wish for an Enforcer, a Messiah of sorts with the political clout to bring back all those sensible rules that once held the country together as a Christian nation? (While it appears non-Christians, led by the media, are fighting tooth-and-nail to ensure that doesn’t happen!)

And now, here comes Donald Trump. Fixer? Enforcer? Nightmare? Disaster? Wildly varying opinions are being expounded – and, oh, the animosity!

You could say I’m a bipolar observer here: I tremble to think what may happen if he wins, and I tremble to think what may happen if he loses. 🙂

*LESS THAN CONQUERORS
How Evangelicals Entered the Twentieth Century by Douglas W Frank.
© 1986 by William B Eerdmans Publishing Company

Of Prophecies and Theories

Sharing my thoughts on the Kingdom of God and how it now appears.
Here are the first parts, if you’d like to read them:
Part One: The Kingdom of Jesus Christ
Part Two: The Kingdom Foretold by Daniel
Part Three: Three Things God Needed
Part Four: Kingdoms and Dominions to Come
Part Five: We Have Seen His Star
Part Six: The Roles Jesus Refused

Today we read much about the climate, the environment, what’s ahead for Planet Earth. Data is collected, theories are presented, predictions made. At the current rate, how long will this Earth support human life? How long will there be potable water? How long before the seas are dead, polluted beyond redemption?

While scientists occupy themselves with these concerns, Christians are also engaged in much speculation about what will come to pass in the political realm. Examining Daniel’s prophecies, Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, the Apostle John’s visions, and doing some creative cut-and-paste, evangelicals have put together some very interesting theories about when Jesus will return and in what way. No one really knows for sure, but it’s intriguing to speculate.

Prophecy is an intense subject and scholars, historically and currently, have spent many years trying to decipher it. But when we think of all the scriptural knowledge the Scribes and Pharisees had at the time Jesus was born, we marvel at how they totally missed recognizing him. His arrival was no big secret, what with angels singing in the skies over Bethlehem and the shepherds going around telling everybody about the infant Savior-king.

Also, a caravan of oriental magi arriving in Jerusalem and going right to the palace to ask, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East.” This made a big splash.
“When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes…together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written, And thou Bethlehem… art not the least among the princes of Juda; for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.” Matthew 2: 1-8

This verse, Micah 5:2, is one of many Old Testament verses that foretold the coming of the Messiah, the Christ, the Governor, Shiloh. But the details didn’t all jive. Isaiah wrote:
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.”
– Chapter 9: 6-7

But he also wrote:
“Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed? For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” Chapter 53: 1-5

One lesson we can learn from the scholars of Jesus’ day: while they believed the Messiah would come, and though they had all the verses memorized about his coming, the prophecies varied enough that they didn’t recognize him. Even his own disciples were confused until Jesus came to them and talked with them after his resurrection.
“And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” See Luke 24:13-35

Regarding the understanding of prophecy, I’ve lived long enough to see various changes of interpretation in what scholars said were “scriptures that show clearly such and such will happen.” I’ve also read enough to know that Christians of other ages have been just as convinced of a completely different interpretation.

Prophecies and Interpretations: A Quick Recap

AMILLENNIALISM

Amillennial teaching says that Jesus did come planning to suffer and die. When He rose again, he defeated Satan, the ruler of this world. He did set up his kingdom, but it’s not – and never will be – a visible nation or country on this present earth. The entrance into his kingdom is the New Birth. Jesus came to be the Door, to open the Way into the Kingdom of God. Ever since his resurrection, he has been reigning in the hearts of all people who choose him as their king. Someday he will come again to gather his own to be with him in heaven.

The citizens of God’s kingdom may live anywhere on earth, but are not “of the world” — which is why they pay taxes (render unto Caesar) and obey all laws, but may decline to vote or bear arms in defense of the country they live in. (The words of Jesus, such as “Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, etc.” are taken literally.) Rather, as Paul explains, Christians act as official ambassadors of their King, entreating on Christ’s behalf, “Be ye reconciled to God.”

As I understand it, this has been the traditional belief of the Mennonites, Amish, and some groups of Brethren. Few, if any, Protestant Evangelical churches teach this.

POST-MILLENNIALISM

Back when we were learning about prophecies, the pre-millennial theory was so prevalent, that I was quite shocked when I read Douglas Frank’s book, Less Than Conquerors (c 1986, Wm B Eerdmans), and learned that in up until the US Civil War almost all evangelical Christians believed the POST-MILLENNIAL theory. Which is:
The world will get better and better and finally it will be so good that Jesus will come back to earth and set up his kingdom. American Christians who believed this theory threw their support behind abolition and the Civil War because they thought they could help things along by getting rid of “the blot of slavery.” With Christians improving society, making it more hospitable to Christ’s return, the world (or at least the USA) would get so good that Jesus would come and set up a kingdom on earth.

Alas for their dreams! The Civil War brought so much death and destruction, and generated so much animosity that the world — or at least America — was even farther from being ready for the kingdom of Jesus Christ. In the next twenty years evangelicals abandoned the theory en masse. In my lifetime I’ve never met anyone who advances, or has even mentioned, post-millennialism. I wonder how many Christians today have even heard of it?

In a different vein, it must have been one of the most bitter disappointments any group of people has experienced, when southern blacks, set free from the shackles of slavery, found that FREE didn’t mean EQUAL in the eyes of most whites. Not in the South for sure, but sadly, not in the North, either.

PRE-MILLENNIALISM

According to Frank’s book, evangelicals gave up on the post-millennial theory and switched to pre-millennialism. Because it’s such a complexity and so entwined with dispensationalism, I’m going to save it for another post. A bare-bones explanation would be:
Jesus is coming back to claim his children, and at some point establish his kingdom in Jerusalem. From there he and his followers will rule over the whole the earth for 1000 years, at the end of which humans who don’t accept his rule will stage a major revolt. Then he’ll call an end to time and the great Judgment Day will begin.

“And (Jesus) said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things.” — Luke 24: 46-48

The Roles Jesus Refused

This is a continuation of my thoughts on the Kingdom of God and how it now appears. Here are the first parts, if you’d like to read them:
Part One: The Kingdom of Jesus Christ. Click here to read.
Part Two: The Kingdom Foretold by Daniel Click here to read
Part Three: Three Things God Needed Click here to read
Part Five: Kingdoms and Dominions to Come Click here to read
Part Four: We Have Seen His Star. Click Here to read

The Roles Jesus Refused

Reading the New Testament and studying the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, I see some things that our Lord flat out rejected. I’ve paraphrased the various quotes, but will include scripture references so you can read the actual accounts.

Jesus refused to be made king.
When people wanted to make him king, he slipped away. (John 6:15)

He refused to be a judge.
“And one of the company said unto him (Jesus), Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me. And (Jesus) he said unto him, ‘Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?” (Luke 12:13-14)

At one point he told his listeners, “It’s not me that will judge you.”
He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day. For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. (John 12: 47-48)

He refused to punish, or allow his disciples to punish, people who rejected him.
In Luke 9: 54-56 we see where Jesus and his disciples approached a Samaritan village, hoping for a warm reception. Didn’t happen.
When his disciples saw that the Samaritans wouldn’t receive Jesus, they asked him, “Lord, can we call down fire from heaven and wipe these wretches out?
And he told them, “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”

He refused to mix politics with religion.
Nowhere in the Gospels did Jesus criticize the government or the way the country was being run. He taught people to be fair, kind, honest, compassionate and merciful, but he never got involved in demands for justice and human rights. He encouraged giving to the poor, but he didn’t hand out money or earthly goods to the needy. He rather invited people into the kingdom of God, where there’s equality and compassion for every citizen. He healed the sick as a way of demonstrating how God is willing to deliver from sin and heal the soul, but his healings were very deliberate, it seems.

At one point the Pharisees hatched a plan to trap him in this very thing. They came to him, first buttered him up lavishly, and then put forth a seemingly innocent question. Here’s my paraphrase of that story. (See Mark 12: 13-17)
“Master, we know that you’re so honest and don’t kowtow to any man, no matter what his position; rather, you teach the way of God in truth. Now what do you think about this question: Is it lawful to pay tribute to Caesar or not?”
(If you say yes, you’re supporting this heathen government. If you say no, you’re rebelling against Roman authority. Either way, we’ll nail you.)
But Jesus, understanding their guile, said, “Bring me a coin.” Which they did.
Then he said, “Okay, whose image is this on the coin? What name is stamped on it?”
“Caesar’s.”
“So, render to Caesar the things that belong to Caesar. And give to God the things you owe to God.”

They didn’t have much to say in response.

He refused to endorse the death penalty for sinners.
According to John 8: 1-11, a group of Pharisees came to where he was, shoving along a woman. “Master, this woman was taken in adultery. In the very act!”
(Does anyone else wonder why they caught her and not her partner?)
So why did they drag her to Jesus? They knew – in fact they told him – what the law of Moses commanded. But they also knew that the Roman law didn’t allow anyone to be put to death without a trial.

So here was another trap. Moses’ law commanded that adulterers should be stoned, but the Roman law demanded a trial first – and would the Romans consider adultery worthy of death? So if Jesus said, “No, don’t kill her,” he was teaching disobedience to the law God gave to Moses. If he said, “Yes, stone her,” he’d fall afoul of Roman law.
His way of sidestepping the decision they were demanding was absolutely brilliant. “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her.”
He tossed the ball back in their court and their own consciences convicted them. One by one they left. Then Jesus looked up at her and told her, “I’m not going to condemn you, either. Go home, and sin no more.”

Jesus rejected the multiplicity of laws so dear to the Scribes and Pharisees
They’d developed interpretations of exactly how each commandment should be carried out and had tacked them on to the commandments of God. Jesus scolded them for heaping heavy rules on men’s backs.
He pointed out how some of their rules actually nullified the laws of God. In Mark 7: 6-13 he talks of one loophole and says, “Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.”

They were trying to buy holiness by keeping their multiplicity of rules, but Jesus wasn’t buying it. He kept pointing them back to the ugliness lurking in their hearts.
“Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness. …ye tithe the leaves of herbs and pass over judgement and the love of God.”
Beware of the scribes, which love to go in long clothing and love salutations in the marketplaces, and the chief seats in the synagogues and the uppermost rooms at feasts: which devour widows houses and for a pretence make long prayers, these shall receive greater damnation.”

God wants children who love Him, and each other.
One scribe asked Jesus, “What’s the greatest commandment?” You can read this account in Mark 9: 28-34. As this man listened to Jesus’ answer, the light went on. He got it.
“Well, Master, you’ve said the truth. There is one God, and none other but he. And to love him with all our heart, all our understanding, with all our soul and all our strength –and to love our neighbour as ourself, this is of more value than all our burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

Israel was the prime example — and God meant it to be the prime example – of why a lot of rules would never hold people’s hearts. Those who were dedicated to serving God would do so, and those who wanted a way around would find it somehow. Holiness must be voluntarily pursued. People first desire it with all their hearts; then, with God’s help, they will do their best to live it.

Some Bible scholars today, all enthused about what’s coming on planet earth, say that Jesus plans to return and set up a literal kingdom. Jesus, whose life on earth was all about offering people a choice, is going to rule over an earth full of people who will be forced to serve Him. Is this really a correct interpretation of future events? What about all the scriptures that indicate a spiritual kingdom? Jesus calls himself “the door” to the Kingdom of God; a kingdom, he says, “that cometh not with outward observation.” (Luke 17:20-21)

“He came unto his own and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.”

“We Have Seen His Star”

“Where is he that is born King of the Jews?”

When Jesus was born, wise men in the East, star-gazers, saw an amazing sight. They were aware of an old prophecy among the Jews that a star would appear (Numbers 24:17), and that this heavenly sign would indicate the birth of a special king. So they headed off to Jerusalem. Where else would you find a King of the Jews? They went right to the top, asking King Herod himself, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews?”

Bad move. Herod wanted to know when the star appeared, then checked into the location — and proceeded to exterminate all babies under two years old in that area. He wasn’t giving his kingdom to any newcomer.

When he was on earth, Jesus talked different times about “The Kingdom of God” but people didn’t understand him. They so much wanted a David or a Charlemagne to conquer their enemies. But Jesus never campaigned for a throne, or even for a place in the government or the Sanhedrin. One day when an enthusiastic crowd tried to force him to be king, he slipped away from them. (John 6:15)

The Jewish leaders just didn’t get it.
And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the Messiah would come to establish the kingdom of God, he answered them and said: The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” Luke 17: 20-21

Still, they worried about Jesus one day making his play for the kingdom of Israel. They didn’t know he’d already refused having the whole world as his kingdom. Satan had come to him right at the beginning of his work and made this spectacular offer:
“And the devil, taking him up into an high mountain, sheweth him all the kingdom of the world in a moment of time.
And the devil said unto him, “All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them; for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it. If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine.”
Luke 4: 5-7

Standing on that mountain, Jesus would have seen the great Chinese Dynasty of the time, the Japanese Emperor’s palace, the Inca kingdom and how many others, in addition to the Roman Empire. Could he see only what existed then, or could he even look into the future and see King Charlemagne, the Ottoman empire, the power of Spain, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Sun King’s splendor in his palace at Versailles, King Aurhur’s court or Great Britain when she ruled the waves, the Russian Tzars, the United States in its ‘Camelot’ era? Did he see these, too?

But Jesus totally refused. “Get thee behind me Satan; for it is written; thou shalt worship the Lord thy God and him only shalt thou serve.” Verse 8.

Could Jesus look ahead and see the rejection, the cross, the shame, when he refused Satan’s offer?

When Jesus entered Jerusalem that last time, for the Feast of the Passover, the Scribes and Pharisees watched with a jealous eye as the crowds thronged Jesus, welcoming him as a king, laying palm branches in his path. They realized that one word from him would do it. The raising of his arm and a shout to the crowds, “The time has come. Let’s deal with Rome,” and all those people would rally behind him.

They recalled the miracles he did; they saw the dead raised. If Jesus would turn his miraculous gift to military ends, even the mighty power of Rome would be toast. They may have muttered to each other that “If he sets himself up as king, the Romans will send in the troops and wipe us out,” but did they honestly believe that? Or did that rationale spring from fear?

They knew where they stood with Jesus. He’d called them “blind leaders of the blind.” They in turn had made it clear to one and all that they thought Jesus was a fake – a son of the devil, even. Still, there must have been a niggling doubt, unspoken questions about all those miracles. And raising the dead? Suppose he does seize the throne? What will happen to us?

Hadn’t Jesus told the parable of the vineyard, how the land was let to men who weren’t faithful (Matt 21:33-41.) “He will miserably destroy those wicked men…” And the parable of the talents, where someone in the past had been set up as king, but his citizens didn’t want him to rule over them. The new king went off to his superiors and got back-up and when he returned, what did he do? One of his first commands was: “As to those men who wouldn’t have me rule over them, bring them and slay them before me.” (Luke 19:12-27)

When Jesus was brought before Pontius Pilate and accused of being the ringleader of a rebellion against Rome, Pilate asked him bluntly, “Are you the King of the Jews?” (Luke 23:3)

Jesus replied: “My kingdom is not of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, then my servants would fight to save me from the Jews (who want to see me dead.) But now my kingdom is not from here.” (John 18:36)
Note: This is my paraphrase. Take a moment to read verses 28 -36 to get the whole exchange between Jesus and Pilate.

At that point Pilate knew Jesus was no threat to Rome and wanted to release him, but the Jewish leaders weren’t having it and Pilate, to avoid an uprising, gave in to their demands. In defiance of the Jewish leaders, Pilate even had a sign tacked on Jesus’ cross saying, “The King of the Jews.”

Centuries later, ideas about his Kingdom — where it’s at and/or going to be – continue to bounce around. A ton of books have been written, quoting this or that scholar — and these teachers mean well but they tend to just build on each other’s thinking. Then time proves the scholars wrong and the waters get murky again. Another Bible teacher steps up with another book, another clear explanation of what’s ahead for this world and a new wave ripples through evangelical circles.

It has a certain magnetic appeal, this idea of Jesus someday coming like another Charlemagne, the conquering hero who’ll set up his kingdom and make people follow the rules. Trouble is, this picture is so anti- all his examples and teachings.

Three Things God Needed

When my dad was on his deathbed, fearful of what awaited him on “the other side” but still not wanting to think about a Holy God, I asked him, “Why do you think God created mankind in the first place?”

When he grunted an “I dunno,” I told him God wanted someone to love…and someone to love him.” My dad had a father who never loved him. He struggled all his life with this loss — and with the concept of a loving God. Sadly, a lot of people do.

Thirty years later I still read it this way: God wanted a people to be his own, to love him, trust him, and serve him voluntarily. So He created a people, and a beautiful garden. And he loved them. He walked and talked with them in the garden. But…there had to be a choice.

God has always been about choice. He could send an angel to bop each one of us on the head and say, “Yes, God is real,” but he’s never been about forcing people to believe. So he gives us a choice, the knowledge of an option. In the Garden of Eden the couple God created was given a choice. A tree…and the command, “You shall not eat of the fruit of this tree.” A simple enough test. You likely know the rest.

The way the universe is set up, and God being pure and holy, sin has to be punished. Even you and I who have deliberately done things we knew were wrong – though we may hope our own small-ish sins will be pardoned – believe there must be some reckoning. We aren’t willing to let the Hitlers, Stalins, Jack the Rippers and Bin Ladins, the torturers, murderers and pedophiles, all be whitewashed and slide into Heaven along with their victims. Every religion on earth teaches that cruel people have to face the music/karma/judgment day. They will be punished for the suffering they’ve caused.

Sin must be dealt with, but God wasn’t willing to cast away every sinner. He isn’t a “That’s it; you had your chance. Now beat it!” kind of Creator. He has a heart of love for mankind. So, in his dealings with us and our sins, God worked out a rescue plan. Then he demonstrated it in a way mankind could grasp. You don’t talk quantum physics to an eight-year-old even if he thinks he knows everything. Rather, you give him a simple demonstration, enough basic details that he can get it in a small way.

Three Things God Needed For His Plan:
— A mirror
— A cradle
— A substitute

The nation of Israel was God’s mirror, a literal depiction of spiritual truths. He chose the Hebrews from among the nations and set them up in a land all their own. This would be an illustration of the spiritual promised land Christians enter when they are born again.

Through these people he demonstrated his plan of redemption, giving them living sacrifices to show how sin must be atoned for. He punished them when they strayed by letting enemy nations conquer them – just as Satan conquers a soul and brings it into bondage. He showed how, when the people turned back to him, he delivered them from their enemy.

Israel was his mirror – or you could call it his “stained glass window.” Israel was his church on earth, but with all the flaws and wanderings that mankind are prone to. These were real people so that we can now look into this mirror and see ourselves. He worked into this window a tableau of his dealings with his people, with individuals who are faithful as well as those who turn away, and how he would someday deal with the Church, his Bride, the New Jerusalem.

The Apostle John was given a vision of this wonderful new world:
“And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her bridegroom. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.” – Revelation 21: 2-3

The nation of Israel was also God’s cradle. He promised Abraham that “in thee and thy offspring, will all the nations of the earth be blessed.” So many writings promised a coming King, “the lion of the tribe of Judah,” and “of the lineage of David.” He would redeem mankind, both Jews and Gentiles. He would be the sacrifice, the acceptable substitute for sin — for those who looked to him in faith and made the choice to follow him.

Having completed the tableau, having used the cradle of Israel to bring forth his Son, the Redeemer of all men, having offered salvation to the Jewish people first of all – and been rejected – God finally abandoned Israel as his people. We still have the tableau in the Old Testament writings, but the mirror has been shattered.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.” Matthew 23:37-38

“Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes? Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.” Matthew 21: 43