Man’s Beliefs Have No Impact on Reality

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Shortly before His death, Jesus had a private talk with His disciples. They wanted to know about the end of the world and the establishment of the kingdom of God. The discussion is recorded in Matthew 24 and 25 (portions are also found in Mark 13 and Luke 21).  Please examine four statements given by Jesus as He discussed this topic:

First:      “So you must also be ready, because the Son of Man will come in an     hour when you do not expect him.” (Matthew 24:44)

Second:  “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”  (Matthew 24:36)

Third:     “Now learn the lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at your door. I tell you the truth; this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.”  (Matthew 24:32-34)

Fourth:   “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.”  (Matthew 24: 37-39)

When Matthew 24 and 25 are carefully examined as one presentation, Jesus appears to be making conflicting statements. For example, in the third text, Jesus speaks about the lesson of the fig tree, indicating there will be signs revealing that His coming is at the door, but in the next text, Jesus says in the second text that no one, including Himself, knows when He will return. Only the Father knows.  Will the Father announce the timing of the Second Coming a few hours before it occurs? Why would the Father hide this information from Jesus? The final text suggests that people will be attending weddings and going about their usual routines of life on the day that Jesus returns.  Given that Jesus made these statements directly, we know they are true, but how do we reconcile them with all that is said in the Bible about the Second Coming? For example, the Bible indicates in Revelation 16:12-21 that Armageddon will be underway (sixth bowl), a great earthquake will move the islands and mountains, and huge hailstones will fall at the Second Coming (seventh bowl). How can Jesus’ appearing come as a surprise when Armageddon is occurring and when the islands and mountains are moving out of their places?

There is a solution to the apparent contradictions given in Matthew 24 and 25. Of course, every word Jesus spoke is true, but the truth may not be immediately obvious.  I have found a solution that resolves these apparent conflicts for me and I hope you will consider the following explanation.  When Jesus spoke to the disciples, He did not speak on His own. The Father put words in His mouth in much the same way that God puts words in the mouths of prophets.  (Compare John 14:10, 24; 17 with Ezekiel 2 & 3, and Isaiah 6.) When Jesus lived on Earth, He lived within the parameters and limitations which the Father imposed on Him.  (Hebrews 5:7-10, Psalm 2:7-12) Jesus laid aside His powers of divinity before He became a man.  When He walked on Earth, He could not use His powers of divinity and remain within the Father’s will.  This explains why His first temptation in the wilderness (turning stones into bread) was to use His powers of divinity. (Matthew 4:3) To redeem mankind, Jesus could not exercise His own will or His powers of divinity.  “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” (John 6:38)

When Jesus spoke to the disciples in Matthew 24 and 25, the New Testament did not exist.  Jesus had not died on the cross and the book of Revelation did not exist.  This means that Jesus did not know many parts of the plan of redemption when He was on Earth.  Later on, after He returned to Heaven, the Father revealed more about the plan of redemption to Jesus. (Revelation 1:1)  Today, human beings can read and understand concepts that Jesus could not see or understand when He was on Earth. The Father’s plan to resolve the problem of sin has unfolded over time and it is not shallow, simple, or brief. It is intricate and completely perfect. This also means that the return of Jesus is not a simple matter.  The book of Daniel was sealed up (Daniel 12: 4, 9) and many of redemption’s mysteries had not been made known when Jesus lived on Earth.  (Romans 16: 25-27)  It is important to understand this perspective because words always live within a context. Therefore, truth and context cannot be separated from each other and remain true.

Man’s knowledge of the plan of redemption has increased over the past 2,000 years, and consequently, many Bible mysteries have been resolved. We should study the Father’s words, spoken through Jesus in Matthew 24 and 25 from the larger point of reference.  Let us review the four statements mentioned above in light of what we understand today from the Bible:

First,   “So you must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” (Matthew 24:44)  The Father is not speaking about the physical appearing of Jesus on the 1,335th day of the Great Tribulation, but instead, He is talking about the first day, Day One, when the Great Tribulation begins.  That day will come as an overwhelming surprise! Today people are confused about this because they do not know that the coming of Jesus consists of a series of events that will occur over 1,335 days, and they will begin without any warning or announcement. Suddenly, the censer used at the Altar of Incense in Heaven’s temple will be cast down (Revelation 8:5) and the world’s activities will literally come to a stop – “at an hour when you do not expect Him.”

Second, “no one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matthew 24:36)  When Jesus spoke these words, the date for Christ’s return had not been revealed yet because plan A was still in effect. However, Plan A was later abandoned, and as a result, the Father set fixed dates for several future events. (Acts 1:7) For example, the day, hour, month, and year for the sixth trumpet has been set. (Revelation 9:15)  Daniel reveals that the Great Tribulation is limited to 1,335 days; therefore, the date of the Second Coming will not be a secret to anyone living on Earth during the Great Tribulation!

Third, “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth; this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” (Matthew 24:32-34)  When the Father spoke these words through Jesus, the Father was talking to His future disciples, not the disciples sitting at Jesus’ feet. The Father was speaking about those people who will see the series of events that will lead up to the Second Coming. There will be a definite sequence of events, and many survivors will live through the Great Tribulation and be taken to Heaven without seeing death.

Fourth, “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.  For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.” (Matthew 24:37-39) Through Noah, the antediluvians knew the year of the flood – long before it happened. (Genesis 6:3) There was no surprise in terms of timing. God had clearly demonstrated that giving people a date for the end of the world is meaningless.  There are several reasons why the antediluvians did not listen and subsequently drowned:  Some of the people did not believe that Noah had received a message from God. Others were procrastinators who simply put off preparation indefinitely. Some did not want their dreams and plans crippled by predictions of doomsday. As so many people today, some did not want to be associated with crazy Noah.  I am sure there are other reasons, but ultimately, the antediluvians were caught by complete surprise because they did not know what to watch for. In fact, I believe that after 120 years, no one even traveled into the countryside to see Noah’s folly anymore. When the time came, God told Noah and his family to enter the ark. The animals arrived and the great door of the ark was closed.  Seven days later, the antediluvians drowned.

When Jesus’ words are aligned with all that the Bible has to say about His return, they make perfect sense.  When Jesus’ words are taken out of context, a huge problem arises because words cannot be separated from their context and remains true!

Pastor Harold Camping

As you know, May 21, 2011 has come and gone without a rapture, and many people (including Christians) are ridiculing Pastor Harold Camping who boldly predicted and expected to be taken to Heaven on that day.  It has been reported that Family Radio (Camping’s media organization) spent about $100 million notifying the world that a pre-tribulation rapture would occur on May 21.  Now that the predicted date has passed and the money has been spent, Camping and his followers have been widely ridiculed in the media.  Because the passage of time has proven Camping wrong, he has attempted to deflect some of the criticism by saying that May21 was “a spiritual date.”  Camping now says believers will be raptured on October 21, 2011.  Skeptics, of course, view Camping’s new date as a stall tactic – “kicking the can further down the road.”

I feel sad for those who sold their homes, cars, possessions in anticipation of a May 21 rapture.  I also feel sad for Mr. Camping and those who put their faith in his prediction. Yet, at the same time, I have to admire the faith and courage of those people who sold their homes, cars, and possessions because they fully believed that life on Earth was over! That’s right, they firmly believed there would be a rapture and their actions confirm their belief. History proves over and over again that man’s spiritual beliefs have no bearing on reality. When it came time to enter the ark, all but eight people believed Noah was wrong. What effect did their belief have on reality? About 100,000 people believed Jesus would return in 1844.  What effect did their belief have on reality! Perhaps as many as 100,000,000 Christians believe there will be a pre-tribulation rapture.  What effect will this have on reality?

Our beliefs, faith, hope, and sincerity have no effect on God’s plans, and this can be a hard pill to swallow.  God will do all that He has promised to do when the fullness of time is reviewed, but only when the fullness of time is reached.  Therefore, sincerely believing that something will or will not happen (and setting a date for it) is a matter of intellectual assent and intellectual assent is not to be confused with faith.  The Holy Spirit knows each of our hearts. He is pleased when we love God and one another and live up to all that we know to be right and true.

God always rewards those who live by faith. (Hebrews 11:6) The Bible speaks clearly: “The righteous shall live by faith!” (Romans 1:17)  Therefore, we should not ridicule those who were deeply disappointed on May 21. We should pray that they will NOT abandon their faith in God, but instead that they will abandon their prophetic paradigm – their intellectual assent to a pre-tribulation rapture.  Camping’s prediction was built on faulty rules of interpretation (hermeneutics) and instead of letting go of God, he and his followers need to let go of faulty rules and conclusions.

Whenever faith brings us to a dead end street, there is a painful, but wonderful opportunity to spiritually mature. This process enables growth in grace and faith. When it becomes clear that faith and reality do not align, it is time to restudy and rethink God’s Word.  Human beings cannot and do not know the future.  Only God knows with certainty how the future will unfold. He has given us certain clues in the books of Daniel and Revelation, but prophetic faith (events awaiting fulfillment) is not to be confused with prophetic fact (events that have taken place).

After many years, Abraham and Sarah grew tired of waiting on the Lord for the promised son. When the reality of what God promised did not appear, their faith in God faded.  Rather than restudy and rethink God’s Word. Sarah set out to fulfill the Lord’s promise herself and Abraham agreed.  You know the dismal result.  There is a significance difference between faith and presumption.  Faith waits on God, believing that when the fullness of time is right, God Himself will produce the evidence – faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen. On the other hand, impatience leads to presumption.  Millions of Christians have become impatient. We want to see our prophetic faith fulfilled “right now.”  There is a ground swell of desire among Christians for a pre-tribulation rapture or the return of Jesus; however, no matter how sincere the desire, man cannot produce either event.

Mr. Camping became a victim of his own creation. He produced a time line from Bible texts that made perfect sense to him and then he convinced others that his paradigm (actually, a private interpretation) was valid. Today, everyone knows that camping’s paradigm and God’s Word d/o not align.  Could Mr. Camping and his followers have been dissuaded from their conviction prior to May 21? Probably not.  When intellectual assent and faith are mixed together, nothing but bitter disappointment can force a person into another way of thinking. So, it is better to mix faith and intellectual assent and risk disappointment, or should we take the safe road and avoid the risk of having our faith tested?

Based on what I have observed, Mr. Camping is a man of considerable faith (as was Abraham).  Camping and many followers acted according to their faith.  I have read how one follower cashed out his retirement savings to buy $140,000 in newspaper ads.  What faith!  Perhaps a good summary for those actions would be, “Right heart – wrong head.”  I have heard it said that “genuine Christians” would never do such a thing – sell their possessions or give everything they have to help others hear about the return of Jesus.  What nonsense.  Christians who are unwilling to live by faith are worse off in many ways than those who are willing to live by faith and fail.  It is better to exercise faith and fail, than to walk by sight and do nothing for God.  God knows that the human race is full of people having right hearts and wrong heads and He also knows that millions of people would be happy to do His will if only they actually knew His will!  When our beliefs are shattered, two options usually surface: We can either abandon the Lord like Peter did in Pilate’s judgment hall, or we can get out the Word of God to see where we went wrong.

God’s Word is truth, but our understanding of God’s Word is always incomplete. Harold Camping’s public failure and humiliation should be a present reminder of this fact. Instead of condemning Mr. Camping and his followers, we need to encourage them to restudy and rethink the elements of their faith.  We should commend them for their faith. Their failure may be fodder for skeptics and critical Christians, but Camping and his followers have given us a prophetic sample of what faith in God actually does.  Think about this: Where there is no possibility for failure, faith is impossible. Faith involves risk; otherwise there is no need for faith.



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