The One Sure View of Christ’s Return

One of the most hotly debated topics in theology among Christians surrounds the study of last times and things, or eschatology. These heated discussions typically address the event of the rapture and the timetable of the millennium, whether we are living in it now or if it is to come. For those who seem so sure of their eschatological view, uncertainty arises when all sides seem to use Scripture to make their arguments. They all agree on the second coming of Christ, but they differ on what it will be like and when it will happen. Yet, one aspect of Christ’s return is sure: who it will involve. When Christ returns, people from all nations will gather together to worship Christ, who alone is worthy of glory!

A Sure Salvation

This one sure view of Christ’s return is spoken by Christ Himself when He describes signs pointing to the end of the age, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). One of Jesus’s disciples, John, records the fulfillment of this prophecy in Revelation 7:9–10 where he witnesses the heavenly vision,

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Have you ever wondered why this vision of a heavenly worship service involves people from all tribes, tongues, and nations? It is because those are the people who Jesus died to save. Listen to the Apostle John speak of worshipping Christ two chapters earlier in Revelation 5:9–10,

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, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

Salvation belongs to God. Worthy alone is Jesus Christ. People saved from every tribe, tongue, and nation.

A Clear Command

If this reality is a sure view of Christ’s return, what does this mean for us as followers of Christ? First, we must recognize Christ’s command to His disciples in Matthew 28:18 is not a call to make disciples in general but to make disciples of all nations. Yes, we are to make disciples wherever we are, but we must also be aware and be involved in supporting and sending fellow brothers and sisters in Christ out to the ends of the earth for gospel ministry.

The Apostle Paul knew this and lived his life for this mission. He knew the only way sinners could call on the name of the Lord and be saved was through hearing and believing the message of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ (see Romans 10:9–15). It is with this mindset he writes to the Romans and says, “I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation” (Romans 15:20).

A Great Need

You may say, “That was nearly 2,000 years ago! Are there really still places and people who have not heard of Christ?” The sobering truth is “Yes!” The reality is around 500 people groups have little to no Christian presence and no one is reaching out to them. In India alone, 495,000 villages have no Christian presence among them. Worldwide there are nearly 2,500,000,000 people who have seldom if ever heard the name of Jesus. Without hearing the name of Jesus, they cannot call upon the name of Jesus. Without calling upon the name of Jesus, they will remain in their sins and face an eternity in hell.

That is why May 20 has been designated the International Day for the Unreached. The heavenly vision reveals this salvation is sure. The Scripture shows the command is clear. The lost world shares the need is great. The hills we die on in eschatology should not be on the secondary specific details of Christ’s return but on the souls Christ has died to save. May our lives be lived on mission toward this vision.

For information on how you can get involved and resources you can share, visit https://dayfortheunreached.org/.

Inspiration and the Bible

Note: This article was originally posted on Northside Baptist Church’s blog.

Is systematic theology really that important? Well, everyone has a theology whether they think about it or not (even atheists!). And the alternative to systematic theology is disorganized theology, chaotic theology. So in an attempt to be consistent and cogent in our thinking I hope you will take in what I am about to say.

In thinking about the study of systematic theology, let’s look specifically at the doctrine of “inspiration.” This is what I want to drill down on right now: the work of the Holy Spirit to “inspire” the prophets and apostles to write the Scriptures.

Here is what we don’t mean when we talk about “inspiration”. Occasionally someone will say they were inspired to do this or that. They might say, “That sunset was so beautiful that I was inspired to write this poem.” Or, “What you said inspired me to try harder.” Something like that. They mean that something happened or they saw/heard something and they were so moved in their soul that a reaction just came out of them. The event they experienced drew the artistic expression or newfound effort out of them. It was always there, but the event tapped that reservoir.

It’s quite alright if you use the word “inspired” to talk like that. But when it comes to describing the origins of the Scriptures, that is not what we mean. In this theological discourse we use the word “inspired” to mean something far more precise. When we say that the Bible has been inspired we actually mean it has been expired. Or better, exhaled. In 2 Timothy 3:16 we read that “all scripture is breathed out by God…”, and in 2 Peter 1:21 we are told that “no prophecy ever came by human will, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Do you see that? Scripture did not come “by human will”; it did not well up inside the authors’ own minds and come out in response to the great things they saw God do. Rather the origin of the Scriptures is with God himself. He in fact breathed them out. Specifically, the Holy Spirit led the authors along so that the final product that they wrote—what we today call the Bible—is what the Holy Spirit wanted written. He used men and women to do that. But he never left them to themselves. He sovereignly superintended their writing. And this is what we mean when we say that the “scriptures are inspired.”

The upshot is that we can have such great confidence that the Bible is the word of God. The Holy Spirit is God, and the Spirit inspired the Bible you have in your hand. There are a lot of holy books in the world. How do we know the Bible is the true word of God? Well, because the Spirit is God and the Spirit was sent by the resurrected Jesus, we can say, in a sense, that Jesus wrote the Bible!  The second person of the eternal Trinity (Jesus) sent the third person of the eternal Trinity (Holy Spirit), in fulfillment of the promises of the first person of the eternal Trinity (Father), to give you this book. Thus, without such a Trinitarian dynamic, confidence in the scriptures erodes. For how can you know it is the word of God, unless God wrote it? And he did; and this is how we understand that! So when you read the Bible, dearly beloved, you are reading the very voice of God still breathing into your life. Read it! Read it with confidence! Read it with fear and trembling. For when the living God speaks the dead come to life.

I have to conclude with this question: Do you see the value of systematic theology? In this article we tied together several things: the Trinity, the doctrine of revelation, and inspiration (and even nodded toward the importance of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension). And bringing them together like this has resulted in an apologetic for how we know the Bible is the true word of God, and therefore also have confidence in its content. Without such a system of interconnected doctrines, what is left? I fear some people believe the Bible simply because they choose to, not because they are convinced by any reflection like this. Well, in that case, how do you know your Bible is truer than the Quran, or the Book of Mormon, or the Vedas, or the Upanishads, or the Bhagavad-Gita, or The Origin of Species? We need systematic theology because we need to think clearly.  And we need to think clearly because so much is on the line. We dare not tell ourselves and the world, “We believe the Bible, well, because we just like it more than the rest.” We need to tell ourselves and the world that we believe the Bible because it is the word of God. And we know this because the only resurrected man, Jesus Christ, has guaranteed its divine origins and trustworthiness by sending his Holy Spirit (see John 16:13–15). And because Jesus is God and the Spirit is God we know the Bible is the word of God.

This post was written by Dr. Nicholas Piotrowski. He is the Associate Dean of Academics and Director of Biblical and Theological Studies at Crossroads Bible College in Indianapolis and serves as Associate Pastor of Theological Development with Northside Baptist Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Who is Your God?

bibleIn an interview with no other than Oprah Winfrey, Rob Bell is asked the question, “What is your definition of God?” His reply is rather intriguing, “A song you hear in another room and think, ‘Man! That sounds beautiful!’ But I only get to hear a little bit. So you start opening doors and rearranging furniture because you have to get into that room to hear that song. When you get in, you turn the knobs all to the right because you’re like ‘I got to hear more of that’. Then you have to open the windows because you want the people in the next houses to hear it.” Now, certainly when we think about God, we would say we want a deeper intimacy with Him and that we want to share His truth of the gospel with others. Yet, under Rob Bell’s seemingly harmless description, we find a problem. He does not point to Scripture to define God. Even when he does speak Scripture, answering “God is love”, taken from 1 John 4:8, he neglects to continue into 1 John 4:9 where this love is displayed in the gospel. To state this boldly, I would dare say Rob Bell really means “love is god”, not “God is love”. What concerns me is not Rob Bell, per se (although, a number of issues in his interview are nonsensical). What grieves my heart is when many people who profess to be Christians follow this same pattern. Their description of God is from their own thoughts, not from the words of Scripture. Thus, I am convinced, either we are people who worship a god made in our own image or we worship the true God in whose image we have been made.

Consider the second book of the Bible, Exodus. One of themes throughout this book is “Who is your God?” In the plagues, we see God making a statement of His superiority over the false gods of Egypt. God acts so that the people “may know that I am the Lord” (Exodus 10:2; 11:7; 14:4, 18). In giving the Ten Commandments, God makes the declaration the Israelites shall not make a carved image or anything in the likeness of heaven above or the earth beneath (Exodus 20:4-6). In other words, they are not to make a god to worship in their own image. Their worship is reserved for the one true God (Exodus 20:1-3), who has revealed Himself in Scripture, most beautifully in the gospel of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4). The God of the Bible is a God who is both holy and forgiving, just and loving (Exodus 34:6-7). We can know God because of His Word. To attempt to know Him any other way is to head down the road of false worship.

So, as we celebrate Christ’s death and resurrection this Sunday, consider how you would define or describe God. If it is by your own thoughts, a picture of a god you have created in your own image, repent of your sin and turn to Christ for forgiveness. Meditate on the truths of the gospel and look to the Word of God to see His full character on display. He is a God who will punish the guilty but also his holy-love, by the cross of Christ, extends grace to you! For those who desire to worship and would describe God according to His Word, remain faithful as you live out your life in a manner, by His grace, as one who has been made in His image.

The Way of God More Accurately

Word of GodIs it possible to be competent in the Scriptures, instructed in the way of the Lord, and accurately teaching the things concerning Jesus, and yet still be wrong? It seems so. In Acts 18:24–25, Apollos is said to be “competent in the Scriptures,” “instructed in the way of the Lord,” and was known to have “taught accurately the things concerning Jesus.” But in verse 26 it says, “When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and explained to him the way of God more accurately.” That’s amazing to me that someone could be as gifted a teacher as Apollos, and yet still come up short.

What was it that Apollos was teaching that was so “accurate” while still so wanting? I think the answer is as follows. It says in 18:24 that Apollos was in Ephesus at this time, and, according to 18:25, that “he knew only the baptism of John.” When Paul later came to Ephesus (19:1), he found disciples and asked them if they received the Holy Spirit when they believed (19:2). They responded, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” These are, presumably, Apollos’ converts in Ephesus (cf. 19:3). These are the ones who heard Apollos “accurately teach,” but, as Priscilla and Aquila knew, the message was still lacking.

So what was missing? Think chronologically with me. There are essentially four stages in Jesus’ ministry:

  1. The preparation by John
  2. Jesus’ life and teaching
  3. Jesus’ death and resurrection
  4. Jesus’ ascension and outpouring of the Holy Spirit

Apollos obviously knew #1 (cf. 18:25). He had to have known something of #2 as well, thus, he could teach something about Jesus (also 18:25). But he clearly didn’t know about #4 (cf. 19:2). He may have also been unclear on #3, because after he met Priscilla and Aquila, and after Paul further educated his converts, the point of clarity still revolved around Jesus (cf. 18:28 and 19:4). Somewhere between points 2 and 4 Apollos went off track. The point here is that someone can be “correct” in some general religious instruction—even pertaining to Jesus—but actually be of no help to one’s audience if crucial teachings are neglected.

Okay, if you’ve persevered in reading this so far, here’s the payoff! Apollos was teaching things concerning Jesus’ life and ethics. But he neglected Jesus’ ascension to the throne of David whereby he rules the nations and pours out the Holy Spirit (very important points for Peter in Acts 2:24–36), and quite possibly something of the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Thus he was correct in what he taught insofar as it goes. But he was terribly wrong to leave out crucial components of the Christian message: that Jesus is raised, that Jesus rules the nations, and that Jesus gives the Holy Spirit to his people. These are awesome truths! Sad that he neglected them. Praise God that he was so teachable when approached by Priscilla and Aquila!

This is helpful for us in many ways. It should challenge us all to orient our thought-lives, practical lives, and ministries around the gospel. We cannot merely teach general truths about God, or Jesus, or the Bible if they are not organized around the gospel and emanate from the gospel. The gospel is that God became man in Jesus Christ, that he lived a sinless life, that his death atoned for sins, that we was resurrected to life, and that now he rules heaven and earth, giving the gift of the Holy Spirit to all who repent and put their trust in him. If we teach otherwise-true things, but leave out the gospel then we are not truly Christian in our instruction and our ministries! For a lot of those general truths of Christianity (God is love, God hears prayer, God can help me through my struggles, etc.) are affirmed by nearly every other theistic religion on earth. But what is distinctive about Christianity? The gospel! That is what makes Christianity what it is. Without the gospel God is not revealed. Without the gospel we are not reconciled to God. Without the gospel our religion is reduced to a psychological balm, a new moralism for religiously minded folks. But with the gospel—the full gospel—we are truly Christ’s witnesses to the ends of the earth (cf. Acts 1:8).

So, let’s be a people who understand the full counsel of God. Let’s be a people who revel in the gospel, grounding and orienting everything we do therein.

This post was written by Dr. Nicholas Piotrowski. He is the Director of Biblical and Theological Studies at Crossroads Bible College in Indianapolis and serves as Discipleship and Leadership Ministries Director with his church family, Northside Baptist Church.

Photo Source: http://providenceswfl.com/blog/read-the-bible-through-in-2014/