If you are under the age of 47 you will have missed living through what I believe to be the greatest achievement of
any nation on this planet.
President Kennedy in front of Congress in 1961 said the goal of the United States was to achieve it before the end of the decade. But it was President Nixon who spoke these words to the three men who had actually proved it could be done: "This certainly has to be the most historic telephone call ever made." The three men were Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins.
The event, of course,was the Moon landing on the 21st July 1969. The module was on the lunar surface for 21 hours, 36 minutes and 21 seconds. But the time Armstrong and Aldrin actually walked on the Moon was 2 hours 31 minutes and 40 seconds. The Apollo 11 mission was followed by other missions until December 1972. In total only twelve men have ever walked on the moon. It has been a very limited 'fraternity' of people who have experienced this mind-blowing event.
I am amazed that the event isn't celebrated every year as a national holiday. Perhaps it is because it is 'old hat' what happened all those years ago. Other events take the spotlight for a while and they too are quickly forgotten.
Yet those who were around at the time remember where they were when "the first small step for a man but a giant leap forward for mankind" happened. It gave the USA a tremendous psychological boost. Economically as well. What great nation has technology and resolve to do this? But it wasn't just considered to be a great success for the USA. Mankind was benefitted. People all over the world rejoiced at this stupendous event. People everywhere thought, "Now everything we plan to do will not be restricted from us."
First though, let us look at the build-up of this sensational achievement 47 years ago. It followed years of trial and testing. Man and materials were tried and tested almost to the point of destruction. It cost not millions of dollars, but maybe billions, or even trillions. To have failed would have been a disaster. Failure was not an option. So much rested on it. Hard to believe it now, but people hoped then that it would lead to world peace and happiness.
There have been many great events in Exploration and Invention, but I maintain that this must rank as the greatest achievement of human history. It is true that it was achieved, as the Englishman Sir Isaac Newton said, "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." It is a little known fact that the Queen of England had a small part in the moon landing. She recorded a message which was placed in a canister that was buried on the moon's surface.
The moon landing, though, pales into insignificance a future event of far greater proportions involving space travel. But there will be more than 12 people who will experience it. It too will be preceded with trial and testing. A price will be paid for it. But not in trillions of dollars. It will certainly be successful. Failure is not possible, because it will not depend on mankind.
Eventually it will most certainly lead to world peace and happiness. Beyond that, there may well be even greater benefits. Could it be that after this outstanding event, that it too, will also pale into insignificance? Scripture confirms "that which the eye did not perceive, and the ear did not hear, and to which the heart of man did not ascend - whatever God makes ready for those who are loving him." Yes, God reveals much to US now, through His spirit. Nevertheless, Paul also wrote, "For at present we are observing by means of a mirror, in an enigma, yet then, face to face." So we don't know everything about this supernatural space travel.
The space travel I am talking about, of course, involves the PAROUSIA in Greek. Strictly speaking, the PAROUSIA is not exactly space travel for us. The word means PRESENCE. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 describes our resurrection which follows the Lord's presence in the air long before His coming to the earth. Our resurrection and Christ's appearance occur concurrently.
"Now we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are reposing, lest you may sorrow according as the rest, also, who have no expectation. For, if we are believing that Jesus died and rose, thus also, those who are put to repose, will God, through Jesus, lead forth together with Him. For this we are saying to you by the word of the Lord, that we, the living, who are surviving to the presence of the Lord, should by no means outstrip those who are put to repose, for the Lord Himself will be descending from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of the Chief Messenger, and the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ shall be rising first. Thereupon we, the living who are surviving, shall at the same time be snatched away together with them in clouds, to meet the Lord in the air. And thus shall we always be together with the Lord."
Clearly then, we will be snatched away to meet Christ at His appearance or parousia. That is our space travel.
It is essential that we know that the word 'parousia' includes the entire scope of Christ's advent, whether to the ecclesia, which is His body or that which is His bride the saints of Israel. My purpose today is to speak only of His advent to His Body - US.
This 'parousia' or 'presence' of Christ for us has another resemblance to the Moon landing of 1969. There are those who believe that Apollo 11 was an elaborate fake. A mock up in a studio to fool people. Conspiracy theories abound. Can it be said that this 'Parousia' is also just another human trick to control the minds of people? To give them a false hope in a world of evil?
Let us examine the truth, as revealed in the Scriptures. If God does not exist and does not reveal Himself in His Word, we cannot possibly know what the future holds for us and the rest of mankind. Your guess is as good as mine.
So the first premise we have to make is that God exists. The first few words in the Hebrew Scriptures are: "In the beginning God ..." Not "Let us prove God exists." It is an absolute statement not allowing discussion. You either believe or you don't. End of story.
"God created the heavens and the earth."
These plain, simple, straightforward words could not be more specific, or less open to misunderstanding. And yet they have been challenged by no less than seven human philosophies, and, as all human philosophies are inspired by the Adversary, this means that Satan considers this Divine statement of fact so important that he has attacked it from seven different directions. Let us consider the statement in detail.
This word repudiates:
1. Atheism, the philosophy of "No God." Atheism denies God.
2. Polytheism, the philosophy of "Many Gods." Polytheism divides God into many smaller deities. The Egyptians, Greeks and Romans all had many gods, and the cultures of these earlier civilisations still find their way into the thinking of today, and especially into the fields of literature and the arts.
3. Agnosticism, which says that it cannot be known whether there is a God or not. Agnosticism doubts God.
These three philosophies (Atheism, Polytheism and Agnosticism, or the theories of "No God," "Many Gods" and
"The Unknown God") all seek to rob God of His glory as a unique Being.
These words repudiate philosophies four and five, namely:
4. Fatalism, which says that everything came into being by chance. Fatalism disputes creation.
5. Evolution, which says that one thing just grew out of another. Evolution debars creation.
These two philosophies would rob God of His glory as a Creator. God answers their challenge in Isaiah 40:26,28.
"Lift your eyes and look to the heavens; who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing."
"Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no-one can fathom."
God Created the Heavens and the Earth
This whole phrase repudiates philosophies six and seven, namely,
6. Pantheism, which makes God and nature one and the same, and
7. Materialism, which claims that matter is eternal.
These philosophies, by reducing God to the level of His creation, deny Him the glory of His supremacy.
He answers their challenge in Isaiah 40:25 and Isaiah 45:5, "To whom will you compare Me? Or who is my equal? says the Holy One." "I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from Me there is no God."
The fact that this opening verse of Scripture is attacked by so many human philosophies shows how determined are the efforts that have been made to undermine the validity of God's Word. But even more to the point is that it shows how determined and ruthless have been the attempts of the Adversary to destroy the absoluteness of the deity of God. Those who proclaim these philosophies are only following the lead, consciously or unconsciously, of their father, the Adversary. And those who believe them are only too clearly showing themselves to be his dupes.
Our discussion can only start from that one premise. I repeat, God exists and He reveals Himself in His Word. If the parousia recorded in the Scriptures is a fraud, then we have no way of knowing if the prophesied return of Christ is true. Accepting that premise, as many people have over the centuries, we come up against a problem.
Using the same Scriptures, different people have come up with different and conflicting ideas about the parousia. Why is the answer so important? Because the truth will strengthen our resolve to follow Christ through the dark days. And we all have dark days.
The Queen, in her Christmas broadcast of 2005, made a profound statement. She said, "This last year reminded us that this world is not always an easy or a safe place to live in, but it is the only place we have."
Whether we like it or not, that is the reality of life. We cannot escape the fact that our world is one where death and disease, poverty and famine are commonplace. Often the cause is WAR. But whatever the cause, this world is the only place we have at the moment. All the more reason for us to consider an important question. Is life going to go on forever; exactly as it has been going on for thousands of years? People will live and die and another generation will arise and will experience good and evil - an endless cycle? But Justice demands that finally evil must be punished and right rewarded.
So how will God sort out this conundrum? In other words - what is God's purpose?
And more specifically, "How does the parousia fit into God's purpose?"
God's purpose is to make the earth as good as it was before Adam sinned. No, sorry, not good enough! What do we say to those millions who died in earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, and wars? "Don't worry, God will return the world to the state of paradise. Sorry about the pain and suffering in the meantime."
God's purpose is to install Christ as King of the earth to bring it peace and prosperity. No, sorry, not good enough! Over the centuries, there have been people who have had a large measure of peace and prosperity. If that were the full extent of His purpose, this group wouldn't be satisfied. In any case, Ecclesiastes tells us that physical wealth is just a chasing after wind. And those people know that that is true whether they read it in the Scriptures or not.
God's purpose is far bigger and better than any of this. God's purpose must be worthy of His great name. The great name of the God who created and sustains a beautiful, perfect, awesome and intricate universe. It must be something which no critic, human or celestial, could possibly find fault with. It must be the final answer to thousands of years of pain, suffering and death. It must answer every demand of justice.
When we survey the history of mankind in the Hebrew Scriptures we find that it is one of failure. God worked at first with Adam and Eve, two individuals who were cast out of the Garden of Eden because of sin. At the time before and after the Flood, He worked through another individual - Noah. The wickedness of the people had been rampant. After the Flood only eight people remained alive on the earth. Later, God started all over again with one individual - Abraham, the progenitor of the nation of Israel. This nation was meant to be a model theocracy that would show the world how to live. The purpose was so that "all the families of the earth" may be blessed (Genesis 12:3). They were to be "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Exodus 19:6). Other nations would see that when the Israelites obeyed God, they were blessed (verse 5). And when they disobeyed God, they would be punished (Deuteronomy 28). Inevitably, the nation experienced failure.
God Himself tells us why He chose Israel. Deuteronomy 7:6-8.
"For you are a people holy to Yahweh your Elohim; Yahweh your Elohim has chosen you to become His, a special people from all the peoples who are on the surface of the ground. It was not because your multitude was more than all the other peoples that Yahweh was attached to you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because of the love of Yahweh for you and because of His keeping the oath that He had sworn to your fathers that Yahweh brought you forth with a steadfast hand and ransomed you from the house of servants, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt."
Why does God love Israel? He loves them because He chose them. Why did He choose them? He chose them because He loves them. God doesn't need a reason to love anyone. He loves because He is love. He chooses because He is omnipotent and omniscient and is always faithful to His promises. That includes the promise made to Abraham that all the families of the earth will be blessed through him. And He will keep that promise.
It is important to realize that what God did with ancient Israel is not Plan B. That the sin of Adam or anyone else messed up His Plan A. We often overemphasise that it is only now, in our present era, that God is gracious to people. But we forget that even in those days, God did not prevent Gentiles from coming to understand God and serve Him. They had to follow the same laws as Israel. For example, if a Gentile man wanted to keep the Passover, he had to be circumcised as it commands in Exodus 12:48. Today a common complaint is that there is one law for the rich and one for the poor. But God tells us what He graciously thinks in verse 49, "One law shall there be for both the native and for the sojourner, sojourning in your midst." God is no respecter of persons. There was a practical reason for doing this. Exodus 22:21 explains, "As for the sojourner, you shall not tyrannize nor oppress him, for you came to be sojourners in the land of Egypt." In other words, you have been through this yourselves, so you know what it was like. You wouldn't wish that on your worst enemy.
Without this law, Ruth, Naomi's daughter in law would not have been allowed to become a part of the family lineage God selected for Jesus.
On the first Day of Pentecost after Christ's death and resurrection, all the people who heard Peter were Jews. The Jews were amazed at what they experienced. Some of them accused the apostles of being drunk. But to prove they were not drunk, Peter quoted the words of the prophet Joel and king David, to show that what had happened had been prophesied long ago. The words of Joel 2:28-29 are,
"And it will be afterward, I shall pour out My spirit on all flesh; And your sons and your daughters will prophesy, Your elders shall dream dreams, Your choice youth shall see visions And surely on the menservants and on the maid servants In those days shall I pour out My spirit."
The next verses describe the events before the coming of the day of Yahweh, which brings tribulation.
Peter also quoted the words of king David.
"Said the Lord to my Lord, Sit at My right Till I should be placing Thine enemies for a footstool for Thy feet."
If Israel, as a nation, had repented all that was left to happen was the judging of God's enemies. No wonder, then, that Acts 2:37 records the words of the crowd, "What should we be doing, men, brethren?" Peter's answer: "Repent and be baptized each of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the pardon of your sins ..."
Who were these enemies?
The whole tone of Peter's discourse centres on Christ, the promised Messiah, as the legitimate heir of David, ushering in the covenant promise of Yahweh to set up a literal kingdom on earth. This would eventually lead to "all the families of the earth being blessed". There is no hint at this stage that anyone other that Jews were involved.
As the story in the Book of Acts continues, however, we see that Peter visits a Gentile, Cornelius. The ecclesia in Jerusalem came to understand that God was now calling Gentiles.
Eventually, THE persecutor of the believers, Saul, becomes persecuted himself when he receives the commission to go to the Gentiles. But note this, Israel is not cast out by God for ever. God is faithful, He will restore Israel to its position of leadership on this earth. You want the Scriptural proof?
"And it shall come to be in that day, Yahweh shall again lift up His hand, to be zealous for the remnant of His people Which shall remain from Assyria and from Egypt ..... He will lift up a banner for the nations and gather the expelled of Israel, And He shall convene the scattered of Judah from the four wings of the earth."
Isaiah 14:1, continues. "For Yahweh shall have compassion on Jacob, and will choose in Israel. And He will give them rest on their own ground; Sojourners will join them as proselytes, and they will be adherents to the house of Jacob."
So we see that God has always dealt with the whole of mankind, of whatever race. He has worked through individuals. He has worked with one nation in particular, and now He works through individuals in various nations. And in the future He will once again work through the one nation of Israel.
Earlier, I said about the return of Christ, that it too will be preceded with trial and testing. Christ said to His Jewish disciples that if they have persecuted Me they will persecute you. Paul wrote to the Philippians (3:10)
"... to Know Christ, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings..."
But does this mean that we must go through the event called by many, 'The Great Tribulation"?
There is much controversy about this question. It is essential that we distinguish between the sufferings of the saints inflicted by human beings and the wrath or indignation of God on man's moral delinquencies.
The Apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:6, "Let no one be seducing you with empty words, for because of these things the indignation of God is coming on the sons of stubbornness." We are to be walking as children of the light in all goodness and righteousness and truth. In Luke 21:20-23, Christ Himself warns that there will be coming a time of great severity on Israel. Revelation 14 and 16 describes that this will fall particularly on the worshippers of the wild beast and apostate Babylon.
The Thessalonians were worried that this was already taking place. But Paul puts them straight on this in his first letter. 1 Thessalonians 1:10 tells them and us,
" ... and to be waiting for His Son out of the heavens, Whom He rouses from among the dead, Jesus, our Rescuer out of the coming indignation."
In that same letter at chapter 10:9-10 he repeats that same encouragement,
".. for God did not appoint us to indignation, but to the procuring of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for our sakes, that whether we may be watching or drowsing, we should be living at the same time together with Him."
The fifth chapter of Romans, is a favourite chapter of many believers.
"Being justified by faith, we may be having peace toward God, through our Lord, Jesus Christ, through Whom we have the access also, by faith, into this grace in which we stand, and we may be glorying in expectation of the glory of God."
That same chapter has these comforting words at verse 9,
"Much rather, then, being now justified in His blood, we shall be saved from indignation, through Him."
The Thessalonians had been going through severe afflictions and persecutions and they thought as many do today, that if they are having a hard time it is because God is angry with them and punishing them. Paul's follow up letter corrected that false understanding.
I have already said that the affliction of the saints comes from other human beings, not from God. Not just from our own foolishness and the evil works of outsiders, but by our fellow brethren.
Because God has been dealing with us graciously, we are to be gracious to one another. Paul exhorts the Thessalonians,
"May the Lord cause you to increase and superabound in love for one another and for all, even as we also for you, to establish your hearts unblamable in holiness in front of our God and Father, in the presence of our Lord Jesus with all His saints."
When we are caught away, human life continues on this earth. Then the 'sparks will fly'. In this dispensation of grace, God holds back His wrath until then. He has held back His wrath because of US.
The disciples of Christ of the Circumcision are those who go through the 'Great Tribulation" Christ's warning about fleeing when they see Jerusalem surrounded by armies applies to them then. In a lesser degree it helped them when the Romans surrounded the city in AD 70, but its greater application is yet future. Those saints who are His and who were not vivified earlier will experience affliction which produces endurance, testedness and expectation. Thankfully, this time will be cut short, otherwise no flesh at all would be saved. (Matthew 24:22)
God's people at that time will enter the tribulation and they will emerge stronger.
Thank God, that that experience is not for us in this present secret administration of grace.
After our 'space travel' there follows our appearance at the bema or dais, It is not a place where our sins will be judged - that has already taken place by the shed blood of Christ at Calvary. This is where we receive our rewards. And importantly, where our relationships with other believers gets sorted out.
How could an individual be at peace with a brother or sister for all eternity, if at the back of that person's mind is some wrong that happened years ago? That will have to be dealt with, and that may well be where it will be sorted out, if not before.
When God's purpose for us is accomplished, we will give Him the praise and glory. Our present weakness and frailty will be forgotten like when a woman has given birth. The pain will be forgotten in the joy of bringing new life into the world.
I said earlier that God's purpose must be worthy of His great name. It must be something that no critic could possibly find fault with. It is perfect and will answer every demand of Justice.
I repeat, failure is not possible, because it will not depend on mankind.
We can accept what God has revealed He will do, because God is love; because God is not a liar, because God is trustworthy and faithful and keeps His promises.
So what is God's purpose? The answer has been in the Scriptures for nearly 2000 years, and it includes our part in God's purpose.
Let us read it in context in 1 Corinthians 15:20-28:
"Yet now Christ has been roused from among the dead, the Firstfruit of those who are reposing. For since, in fact, through a man [i.e. Adam] came death, through a Man [i.e. Christ] also, comes the resurrection from the dead. For even as, in Adam, ALL are dying, thus also, in Christ, shall ALL be vivified [made alive]."
The passage continues:
"Yet each in his own class: the Firstfruit, Christ; thereupon those who are Christ's in His presence;
[There is that word 'presence' - the Greek is parousia] thereafter the consummation, whenever He may be giving up the kingdom to His God and Father, whenever He should be nullifying ALL sovereignty and ALL authority and power. For He must be reigning until He should be placing ALL His enemies under His feet. The last enemy is being abolished: death. [Note - the enemy is DEATH, not a person or persons] For He subjects ALL under His feet ... Now whenever ALL may be subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also shall be subjected to Him Who subjects ALL to Him, that GOD MAY BE ALL IN ALL."
May God speed that glorious day!!
© James Johnson