The Future of the Church
Several years ago I had the privilege of hosting weekly visits by young Mormon Elders (missionaries) who were living in my area. From the start I told them I was not a candidate for conversion to the LDS Church but we could explore what we had in common. They came back week after week.
I suppose I would still be meeting with these men and their successors had not the local Bishop banned them from hanging out with me. The Bishop could not charge me with being anti-Mormon, most of our conversations were about Jesus Christ, an important historical figure to Mormons. They welcomed my views on the central importance of Jesus to evangelicals like me.
Several of my new Mormon friends had already been visiting churches in the area but they had all come away disappointed. In one case, two of my Mormon friends said they felt hurt as persons when the pastor of a church they were visiting asked them to leave. They had come to learn, not to proselytize, they wanted to learn what non-Mormon Christians believe. I told my LDS friends that dropping in to a random local church these days would likely prove to be a futile venture, hit and miss. I developed a great love for my Mormon friends; several of them still stay in touch by email or Facebook. I wish they would come back.
The Bible is very clear that Jesus Christ founded the church which is named after Him two millennia ago, (Matthew 13:16-19). Jesus told His disciples a few weeks later at the Last Supper that He and God the Father would soon send the Holy Spirit to them so they could all begin to call out of all the world, not just the Jews, but men, women, and children from every nation, every group, both sexes. The church would be governed by a New Covenant which was a radical new arrangement for living compared to the Law of Moses and the Old Covenant.
Seven Sabbaths plus one day after the resurrection of Jesus, God (the Father and the Son), sent the Holy Spirit to Jerusalem to unite the followers of Jesus Christ into a new, living, connected, organic ensemble. They were fully equipped to represent Jesus, not merely at one place at one time by one man, but now, universally, wherever followers of Jesus gathered. (Please read Chapter 2 of the Book of Acts (Acts 2), found in The New Testament just after the four gospels. Acts describes the founding and early years of the church.)
The New Testament presents us only with highlights of the early history of the church of Jesus Christ. Secular historians have filled libraries with records of how the church grew and diversified down through 2000 years. Since God likes variety and diversity, it is no surprise to find many different ways men have chosen to live out their faith in Jesus Christ down through the centuries in “local churches.” Since man is a fallen creature every local expression of the church is flawed. Many of the divisions one sees between Christians today are not God’s doing but ours.
Jesus had already warned His disciples that the spread of the kingdom of God on earth would be violently opposed by evil men and by fallen angels. (Matthew 13:1-40) The message of Jesus would attract a small number of people of all backgrounds who genuinely believed Jesus in their hearts and were ready to follow Him. A bigger group of responders would stop short of knowing Christ and obeying Him. With the passage of time the original message given by Jesus and His immediate disciples became more and more diluted and more distorted. Church splits have occurred needlessly in every generation. The teaching of the church has been dumbed-down and thoroughly diluted over and over again. The original apostles of Jesus, men of integrity Jesus commissioned to act in His name, wrote sound, authoritative documents (The New Testament), complete with guidelines so that the core teachings of Jesus would not be totally lost or easily ignored. The Apostles did warn that the church would grow weaker over time, with only a small remnant living in accord with Jesus and serving God as Jesus commanded.
As the centuries rolled by, the church as a whole has become weaker and more divided. Few individuals bothered to live exemplary lives modeled by Christ. Open animosity and persecution of Christians is now becoming global, all over again, and counterfeit forms of Christ’s teaching are everywhere.
The message of Jesus has nonetheless been spread around the earth again and again for 2000 years. It is a message predicting peace on earth, the end of all wars, and the healing of all mankind. Yet today, Christianity appears to be a miserable failure. The man Jesus is clearly the most hated man who ever lived. Some of His teachings are widely quoted today but in derogatory, ugly ways. God’s program is precisely on schedule!
The early Christians expected Jesus was leaving them for a short time only, days or weeks at most, He said He was going to prepare a place for them. (John 14:1-3). But the months and years went by with no sign of Him.
Christians were persecuted mercilessly from the final years of the First Century until the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine (c272-337 AD). (Persecution has continued in most of the world to this present day.) The early Christians were eager for the promised return of Jesus and they spoke often of their “Blessed Hope.”
"For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you." (Titus 2:11-15)
One gauge of the time Jesus Christ will return to be united with His church is that a certain fixed number of Gentiles will have come to know Jesus as Lord. Romans 9-11 explains God’s permanent commitment to Israel. God would resume His active rule over Israel “when the full number of the Gentiles has come in” (to the church), Romans 11:25.
Nowadays new converts to Christ are few and far between in North America and in Europe, though many from third-world countries are still being converted.
There are many, many indicators in 2012 that we are rapidly reaching the end of the age of the church. The next major action by God in world history will very likely be the removal of the entire church, suddenly, instantly. This event has come to be called “the Rapture of the Church.”
The Rapture will not be the “end of the world” nor the time when all the dead are resurrected, judged, and assigned to rewards in heaven or punishment in hell. Jesus announced that there would be two resurrections spread out over time, separating the righteous from the unrighteous (see John 5). Jesus Himself is the appointed judge of all, making the court-like events of clearing and rewarding the innocent, and punishing the sinners of the world—small and great—take place with perfect fairness and balance.
The Rapture is one of those points in history where events in earth time are interrupted by an event from outside our time frame. Those persons who are true followers of Christ will be raised from the dead and cloaked with flawless new bodies. We who are alive at that time will leave earth’s time frame with them and thenceforth work alongside Jesus in a new and intimate, close relationship with Him. It is described in the Bible as a heavenly wedding. In the Old Testament, Israel is symbolized as already married (she is the “wife of God”), but the church is a virgin called out of this world to be the virgin Bride of Christ.
The Rapture of the Church will take place in a split second of earth time:
“Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 15:52-58)
Since the number of true followers of Jesus is a small fraction of those who merely profess, many church parking lots will look about the same the Sunday after the Rapture. (My friend Ted Wise and I celebrated Christmas in Mumbai (Bombay) India some years ago. We saw no signs anywhere that most of our friends back home were caught up in celebrating the birthday of Jesus.)
The 2000-year window of history, when the true church is preeminent as the God’s work in the world, extends from the Pentecost of Acts Chapter Two up to the sudden departure of the church at the Rapture. During this time interval, world population has grown from about 300 million persons to the present 7+ billion.
In the last 2000 years, it is estimated that 100 billion people have been born on our planet. (http://www.un.org/popin/popis/journals/poptoday/today0295.html). [Updated interesting view from the PRB Population Resource Bureau here.]
Many people have said they were Christians but were not (God knows). Many more inconspicuous but real Christians are part of the true church. Likewise millions of children who died before an “age of accountability (God knows).
For purposes of discussion, I have assumed that 10% of those born in the last 2000 years came to know the Lord Jesus in the personal, intimate way during their lifetime according to the standards Jesus stated (see Matthew 7:13-29). For purposes of discussion, let’s say the church of Jesus Christ will number perhaps 10 billion persons at the Rapture!
Several years ago I contemplated writing a book on heaven. I gave up the project when I realized how little the Bible says about life-after-life for us who are the followers of Jesus Christ. We know enough to get ready. I am disappointed that so few Christians are interested in the incredible changes that lie just ahead for the whole world, and especially for the followers of Jesus. Since World War II, our country has enjoyed great economic prosperity. But our preoccupation has shifted from closeness to God to what we have imagined was success in economic terms, plus our own pell-mell quests for worldly happiness and pleasure. Solomon, by far the wisest man in the ancient world told his people 3000 years ago (Ecclesiastes 6) that God gives the power to enjoy life, only to those who He chooses. In the New Testament, James the brother of Jesus explained that the pursuit of wealth and success in this present world was a futile quest, generating frustrations, envy, resentment, and finally murders and wars. (James 4).
For those Christians who are alive when Christ returns for His Bride, we will be aware of three sudden interruptions happening that are all part of the Rapture:
"For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words." (1 Thessalonians 4:15-18)
The shout of command from Jesus will first raise all the "dead in Christ." These are all believers who enjoyed a relationship with Jesus from Pentecost till now. Next, there is only one Archangel mentioned in the Bible and that is Michael who has charge of Israel. The voice of the Archangel signifies that Israel will move back to center stage of history at this time. Third, a trumpet call will summon all of us who are alive to be transformed and given new resurrection bodies along with our newly-risen predecessors.
The whole ensemble, Christ's entire church, (perhaps as many as 10 billion of us), will be caught up, probably to live in the City of New Jerusalem. (See the last two chapters of the Bible, Revelation 21-22.)
On the way, all Christians will pass a reviewing stand for God's evaluation of our works (known as the "Judgment Seat of Christ"). This will be an evaluation of how we have used our time and resources since we came to know the Lord Jesus. It is not a judgment for sin; all our sins were paid for in full by Jesus.
The rapture of the church is likened in the Bible to the calling of a virgin bride (the true church) to join the Bridegroom, Jesus. (The false church is, on the other hand, like "the great harlot" depicted in Revelation 17.) The imagery of the Bride is one of consummated love between Jesus and His church. The true church will then be safe from the terrible time of world-wide judgments, lasting seven years. These "end-time" judgments will commence immediately down here on earth (2 Thessalonians 2), right after the Rapture, beginning with a season of false peace led by a counterfeit Jewish Messiah.
Most of us by now are aware of the widespread hypocrisy in the church these days, and the reality that Christ's Bride-to-be has often gone whoring after other gods. This means that preparing ourselves for the Rapture now, while we can, deserves our immediate attention if we are really the followers of the Lord Jesus. Getting ready for the Rapture is all about repentance. Our nation is falling apart around us and much of the blame is due to the failure of the church to be the holy people we are called to be.
Most of us have grown up with incorrect ideas about “heaven.” It is best to think of this life as boot camp, training time. We won’t qualify for the best assignments in the next life if we have not passed the tests of this present life: “If for this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.” (1 Corinthians 15:19) More simply, Jesus just wants us to know Him and not just know about Him, so that when we see Him one day, it will be a fabulous, heavenly home-coming after being gone for a while—we will not be strangers, and our love for Jesus and His powerful love for us will be more than Spiritual—it will be real and palpable.
“You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier. And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. The hard-working farmer must be first to partake of the crops. Consider what I say, and may the Lord give you understanding in all things.” (2Timothy 2:1-7)
Classes: “Should the Lord tarry” I plan to teach the book of Daniel starting July 15. As usual class notes and audio files will be posted on my web site.
Health and Such: I wish I were more successful in writing newsletters and essays since there is so much dumbing-down of basic knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ and His plans for world peace, the rebuilding of the nations and the fulfillment of “exceedingly great and precious promises” (2 Peter 1:4). Health: good. Sloth: Pray please.
Finances: God has been teaching me that “there is great gain in godliness with contentment”:
“Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” (1 Timothy 6:6-12)
This month my bank account was empty by mid-month with two utility bills waiting to be paid. God is proving faithful in that I have not gone hungry so far. I do have urgent financial needs right now. For example, I am grateful that Medicare covers most of my medical expenses. But, for a good part of the year my copayment on prescription meds has been running close to $1000 a month. Next month I must pay the annual premium from my primary care physician. That’s another $1100. My supplementary medical insurance presently costs me $300 per month. Property taxes are coming up in the fall. You all probably know how food costs have soared, eating out at “modest” restaurants is just not affordable anymore, but “eating in” isn’t cheap either! End of Rant: If you are able to help out, pray God will find me worthy of your support.
The Blue Letter Bible ministry has graciously provided me a better channel for tax-deductible donations. If you would like a tax receipt, send your check to: Blue Letter Bible ATTN: Lambert Dolphin Ministries (LDM), 29 Rancho Circle, Lake Forest, CA 92630 (Please make your check out to "Blue Letter Bible" and mark "LDM" in the memo field of your check). Thank you very much! You may send cash contributions directly to my PayPal Account... http://www.ldolphin.org/donations.html. Such contributions are tax free to me, though not to you.
Book: My colleague Ron Graf and I hope you will obtain copies of our book on Bible Prophecy, Connecting the Dots... http://bible-prophecy.com/connecting.
Contacting me: Email: email@example.com; Website: http://ldolphin.org; Apologetics and Q&A: http://paracleteforum.org; Previous newsletters: http://ldolphin.org/news. While I try to answer all my email, I am not very good at returning phone calls. Everything I have written ends up on my web site. Please visit there often and write to me when you see something of interest.
Pentecost Sunday falls seven Sabbaths plus one day after Passover. Some think the Rapture may occur at the time of the Fall Feast of Tabernacles. We are plainly told that we can not predict the date or the time of the Rapture.
The Two Churches: God’s and Man’s, by Ray Stedman, http://www.raystedman.org/thematic-studies/prophecy/two-churches-gods-and-mans
The Marriage Supper of the Lamb: http://www.ldolphin.org/Msup.html
The Ultimate Wedding, by Bill Risk, http://www.ldolphin.org/risk/ult.shtml
The Church at the End of the Age, http://ldolphin.org/church.html
The Church as the Bride of Christ: In respect to the “church” (ecclesia/assembly) being the bride of Christ you might consider the following passages. It would be difficult to insert any group other than the assembly of believers (church) with Christ, the “groom”. (Thanks to Lynn Berntson)
1. Luke 5:34 And Jesus said unto them, Can ye make the sons of the bride-chamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them?
2. John 3:29 He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, that standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is made full.
3. Eph 5:23-24 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, being himself the saviour of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives also be to their husbands in everything.
4. Rev 19:7-9 Let us rejoice and be exceeding glad, and let us give the glory unto him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And it was given unto her that she should array herself in fine linen, bright and pure: for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.
5. Rev 19:14 And the armies which are in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and pure.
6. Rev 21:2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.
7. Rev 21:9 And there came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls, who were laden with the seven last plagues; and he spake with me, saying, Come hither, I will show thee the bride, the wife of the Lamb.
8. Rev 22:17 And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And he that heareth, let him say, Come. And he that is athirst, let him come: he that will, let him take the water of life freely.
June 30, 2012