Why Christians Need to Stop Worrying about the End Times – (Revelation no.7)

This is the latest in my Revelation series in Christian Today – you can read Here

The unedited original is below….

I originally entitled it – The Open Door

There is an old limerick “ Two men looked out of prison bars, one saw earth and one saw stars”.     What do you see when you look at the Church in the West today? Some churches copy the business practice of SWOT analysis, looking at the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. In Christ’s Letters to the Seven Churches in Revelation 2 and 3, it’s as though he has been conducting his own SWOT analysis on the Church in the West today.

The influential Left Behind novels and film are based on pre-millennialist theology.

Post-Millenial

In the English-speaking churches in the 19th century there was an optimism that existed because of a combination of political, social, economic and theological considerations. Regarding the latter, the predominant theology was that of ‘post-millennialism’. This meant Christians believed that the Church of Christ would increase rather than shrink, the Kingdom of Christ would grow and the rulers of the world would bow the knee to Jesus. However in the latter part of the century an Anglican clergyman, JN Darby, developed the Plymouth Brethren movement and focused on a narrow and specific ‘pre-millennial’ system. Through the Brethren and then especially in the United States through the influential Scofield Reference Bible, pre-millennialism became the predominant ‘end-times’ theology in the Western world.

Why is this important? Because pre-millennialism was profoundly pessimistic about the growth of the Church and the future of the world. In opposition to post-millennialism, the pre-millennialists believed that the ship was sinking, the world was going to get worse and the Church just had to huddle down, get into the lifeboats and hold on until the Rapture and then the return of Christ.

Although the vast majority of Christians may not hold to or even know the details or pre-tribulation, rapture and post-millennial theology, the fact is that it continues to have a profound impact upon much evangelical thinking today. And this is where the letter to Philadelphia comes in.

Philadelphia

Philadelphia was the gateway to the East. It lay on the main route from Rome and was known as ‘little Athens’, because of the many temples in the city. It was a famously insecure place because of the frequent earthquakes. The ancient geographer Strabo wrote: “The walls never cease being cracked, and different parts of the city are constantly suffering damage. That is why the actual town has few inhabitants, but the majority live as farmers in the countryside, as they have fertile land.”

The church there was small and not very strong (Revelation 3:8) and yet was commended by Christ for keeping his word and not denying his name. They experienced strong opposition but their faithfulness was rewarded with fruitfulness and there was nothing the enemy could do about it.

The Open Door

And now Jesus tells them that he has given them an open door. This is not an accident, a fortunate set of circumstances. It is not a door they have to knock on, or kick down. It’s a door that has been opened by the one who holds the ‘key of David’. What he opens no one can shut and what he shuts no one can open. Once again, John is citing the Old Testament: “I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no-one can shut, and what he shuts no-one can open” (Isaiah 22:22).

Recovering a Neglected Doctrine

If there is one doctrine that the Church in the West needs to recover today it is that of the sovereignty of God. Jesus is Lord. We show we have forgotten that when in order to ‘defend Christianity’ we endorse as the ‘Christian’ candidate in the American presidential election a man who boasts about his anti-Christian attitudes or a woman who boasts about her anti-Christian morality. The justification I have heard from Christians on both sides is that we don’t like them but we have to endorse them or worse will happen.

The same has happened on this side of the pond when Christians think that their views on Brexit are essential to the maintenance of the gospel. Do we not realise how puny and pathetic it is that we play power politics with our limited knowledge and abilities? Does it not display a lack of trust in the sovereignty of God? We are certainly entitled and encouraged as free citizens in a democracy to have our own political views – but we are not to make the Kingdom of God dependent on them. Sometimes the Lord will use a pagan king, like Cyrus, to fulfill his will. Sometimes he will convert the Emperor. But at all times those who are his people need to rely on him to open the door.

This concept of the open door for the gospel is key in the New Testament.

Paul writes to the Corinthians: “Because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me” (1 Corinthians 16:9). “Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me” (2 Corinthians 2:12). “On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles” (Acts 14:27) .

The Church in the West today should not be hunkering down and waiting for the End Times, trying to work out a detailed timetable from a combination of the book of Revelation and Hal Lindsay’s The Late Great Planet Earth. We should not be looking round in despair at the mess all about us. We should not be banging our heads against the closed doors but rather looking for the open doors and walking through them.

After writing The Dawkins Letters I was speaking in a large Edinburgh bookstore when a Christian asked me, “Do you not think it’s terrible that Dawkins wrote The God Delusion? Is it not a sign of the End Times?”. My response? No. Take a look around you. What is the number one book in this store? The God Delusion. A book about God, Jesus and the Bible – asking all the right questions but giving all the wrong answers. What an opportunity for us!

I have been involved in ministry in the UK for 30 years and I would say that there has never been such a time as today where people are so open to the gospel, or the Church so ill-prepared to communicate it. This is in spite of (or indeed perhaps because of) the secular opposition and antipathy towards biblical Christianity.

A New Beginning?

The Catholic philosopher Charles Taylor, in his magnificent work A Secular Age, believes that “we are just at the beginning of a new age of religious searching”. I agree. In the postmodern marketplace of ideas we have the best idea of all – the good news of Jesus Christ. The door is open.

Recently I was invited into a university to debate. There was nothing unusual about this except for the fact that it was not arranged by the Christian Union but by the university itself, who wanted the students to hear a ‘radical Christian’ perspective because they assumed (rightly) that the vast majority of their students would never have come across it. It was an open door and it went so well that they have invited me back. The truth is that even gospel ignorance gives us the opportunity to bring gospel knowledge.

The Confidence of Christ

Instead of constantly going on about threats, cowering or abusing in fear, we need to have the confidence of Christ.   He promises that he is coming soon, that he is going to make us “pillars in the temple of my God”, and that we will be part of that enduring building. We are not collapsing pillars but abiding pillars, “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord” (Ephesians 2:20-21). Whoever is elected US president, or whatever political system currently prevails in Europe, I have no fears whatsoever for the Church of Jesus Christ. In a few years they will be gone but the Word of Christ, the Gospel of Christ and the Church of Christ will continue. “Yesterday, Today, Forever, Jesus is the same. All may change, but Jesus never. Glory to his name!”

The Name above all Names

And what a name! A name that is given to us. A wonderful new identity promised. We live in a culture where it is presumed, falsely, that we can just re-invent our own identity. We can re-brand and re-name ourselves.   Except its all shallow nonsense.But the way of Christ is different. There is real change, real renewal and real hope.

Philadelphia was known by two other names, so the Christians there would have appreciated the point: Jesus tells them, you are my people, you are small, you are weak, but I am giving you a “new name”. “His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no-one knows but he himself” (Revelation 19:12). And we are being given his name – the name that is above every name, and at which every knee shall bow.

I don’t care too much about your millennial views. I don’t know when Jesus is returning. I just know that he is. And I know that the gates of Hell will not prevail against his Church. What a difference it would make to each one of us if we woke up in the morning and just simply prayed “Lord, what open doors have you set before us today?”

Then instead of banging our heads against a brick wall, or curling up in despair; we would walk through those Good News doors.

 


14 thoughts on “Why Christians Need to Stop Worrying about the End Times – (Revelation no.7)

  1. No problem in not knowing when Jesus is returning. Even He doesn’t know. Plymouth Brethren – a wonderful group to have belonged to. That was where I heard the one (I thought you were going in that direction) “the trouble is that all the pillars of the Church are caterpillars”. I think it was intended humorously.

  2. “Sometimes the Lord will use a pagan king, like Cyrus, to fulfill his will. Sometimes he will convert the Emperor. But at all times those who are his people need to rely on him to open the door.”

    Did you listen to Derek Thomas’ sermon from 1st Pres Columbia, SC or something? He literally used the same example two weeks ago

  3. Excellent. Thank you.

    End times view does have an effect on church life, how we pray and do church and I suspect that yours is amillenial and the kingdom now but not yet rather than gloom and doom retrenchment or hunky dory glory.

    The sovereignty of God is largely absent in much of today’s Christianity.

    Just a couple of days ago I watched a short featured video on the Gospel Coalition site about understanding and engaging young people: why they resist being part of church and an expression that was used more than once, jumped out at me. God sovereingly risks. Yes, God takes sovereign risks! Oh really! I’m pleased he doesn’t and never has done so with my life. nor before the foundation of the earth. The video no longer seems to be there.

  4. David, I very much agree with your comment that: “there has never been such a time as today where people are so open to the gospel, or the Church so ill-prepared to communicate it.” I do however wonder how serious Scotland’s evangelicals are about communicating the Gospel. I fear that most of our churches have simply become inward looking ‘Christian’ social clubs!

    For me, any church serious about taking the saving Gospel of Christ should at the very minimum develop:
    (1) A written plan for the perpetual evangelisation of their local area?
    (2) Regular training for their members in how to share their faith with others. The reality is that most Christians don’t actively share their faith because they lack the confidence and have never been taught the skills of carrying out a simple faith sharing conversation.
    (3) Teams of people from their members who will take action to ensure that evangelistic opportunities and activities are creative, relevant and are carried outwith the confines of the church building.
    I could go on. Time for evangelical leaders to prepare the people they lead for communicating Christ to a dying world….no more excuses!

  5. Surely Darby flourished well before the latter part of the 19th century? According to Roy Coad (History of the Brethren Movement) some at least of his prophetic views were derived from the teaching of a sixteenth century Spanish Jesuit. But there were other forces at work as well as Darby’s teachings. The great postmillennial optimism withered away before the new century was very old, for obvious reasons. And Spurgeon had identified a creeping malaise in the evangelical churches well before then. They weren’t in a fit state to face the new century.

  6. In Thessalonians 5 verse 11 we read :
    Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

    I share and proclaim the gospel of Christ almost daily, therefore i know what the new atheists are saying is not true regarding that people are not interested in religious discussion. Even those who oppose are willing to talk, even at length.

    I am not a man of education, yet I have the most lengthy discussions with atheists, agnostics and those who think they are Christian, yet are clearly not. They hold all sorts of academic degrees and executive positions in society.

    Yet the advantage I have is once I proclaim Christ, I have courage and boldness because i know that on Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.

    That was a most edifying read, Thank you David.

  7. You say ” the pre-millennialists believed that the ship was sinking, the world was going to get worse and the Church just had to huddle down, get into the lifeboats and hold on until the Rapture and then the return of Christ.” This sweeping statement is a misrepresentation of the pre-millennial proposition and also undermined by the fact that many who know / have known and hold / have held such views have not been “hunkering down” but have rather been keeping the evangelical lights on, particularly in Central Scotland, and also punching well above weight in walking through doors that the Lord has opened (although men have tried to close) in foreign lands.

    Recently, I have been reading Jeremiah and Ezekiel – they reveal God’s mourning over the state of the temple and the nation. I am not convinced by your subjective view that because bookstores are stocking and promoting “The God Delusion” would necessarily undermine a view that mourning for the current spiritual state of the church / nation (or even having a pessimistic view re the short-term national scene) is necessarily out of place. Nevertheless, both prophets were commissioned to “Go” and do such things as buy a field etc. I do agree that the door is much more open than many perceive. Ananias (Acts 9) did not originally realise that God had been doing a work in the mind and life of Saul of Tarsus – he seemed to check that the Lord fully understood what he was doing. I am sure he was thrilled when he took the message and there is often a surprise to us that some people we perceive to be hardened sceptics are actually ready to hear the gospel.

    A casual reading of your article would infer that the form of future events are not worth caring about. I appreciate that people can serve a theological position rather than use it as a motivator – I would not defend such). However, can you explain why so much of the Bible is taken up with setting out information on future events – is it worth reading the rest of the book of Revelation?

  8. This seems to be a contrived way to have a go at the “pre-millennial” proposition and those who are associated with it; the attempt to summarise it in a few sentences, leads to misrepresentation in terms of the content, outcome and value of such.
    Firstly, any casual reader of the above blog is likely to form the impression that “end times” are not worth caring too much about and you are implying that providing you know that He is coming and that the gates of Hell will not prevail against His church, the rest is of little / no consequence. A very high proportion of content in the Bible is to do with prophecy, end times, the hope of Israel and the Church. The principle of “Sola Scripture” and the sufficiency of scripture does not only exclude going beyond scripture – are we to ignore the vast tracks of prophetic detail? Is it worth reading on in Revelation? What do we do with Revelation 20? On the other hand, I acknowledge that there is a danger in any Bible study being entirely cerebral and that it should impact my life.
    Secondly, the teaching itself does not encourage “hunkering” or “huddling down” etc. For example, the Bonar brothers, Dr Thomas Chalmers etc. were pre-millennialists (see: http://www.evangelical-library.org.uk/lectures/evangelical-library-lecture-2010-andrew-bonar/) – I doubt whether your predecessor at St Peter’s (Dr Murray McCheyne) accused them of being brothers who hunkered down (despite not adopting a similar view). The evangelical lights in Scotland (especially in central belt) have been kept shining by many who are influenced by such teaching and many have been zealous in preaching Christ through both open doors and also doors that men have closed. Such have considerably punched above their weight in terms of missionary activity and throughout the world (not only “church in the west” as you suggest but also much of the expanding church in the east), many Christians who are influenced by pre-millennial teaching are motivated to take all opportunities to preach Christ.
    Finally, the counter arguments that you supply are flimsy and, with due respect, “smart”. How about countering the pre-millennial (and indeed post-millennial) arguments on a proper sola scripture basis? If so, bring it on. I anticipate that you will respond by saying that you have other more important priorities and I guess that you do have such. If so, it is better to avoid giving glancing and unsubstantial attacks on these matters and thereby other believers.
    Now that I have said my piece on this, I admire your ministry and thank God that there is “a man standing in the gap” re other matters and I would agree more substantial matters. I also thank you.

    1. Again – don’t do a casual reading and you won’t then get the mistaken impression that end times are not worth caring about! I don’t think Chalmers was pre-millenial and neither McCheyne nor the Bonars were in terms of dispensationalism and what is generally regarded as pre-millenilism today. Sorry you didn’t like the counter arguments….as we go on in the Revelation series we will doubtless come to Rev 20! Look forward to your comments then….no offence or slight intended…

  9. By way of explanation for the apparent duplication – I thought that my first response had disappeared in the Ethernet and therefore resubmitted.

    Thank you.
    Andrew Bonar may / may not be a pre-millennialist in terms of the change you now make to a more narrow definition. However, I think that there is plenty of evidence to make him guilty of the charge in your article of “believing that the ship was sinking, the world was going to get worse” – however, it seemed to inspire his zeal for “open doors”? Example quote from Andrew Bonar:
    “Men and brethren, let us‘gird up our loins! This day is a day of trouble and rebuke and blasphemy ; and the prospect has nothing in it that is cheering. Satan has great wrath ; his hosts have great strength ; the love of many in our King’s camp is Waxing cold ; new alarms are ever startling us ; and events give forebodings of new suffering and woe to the earth. “ But, beloved, remember ye the words that were spoken before by the apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ (Jude 17). “Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days, scoffers, walking after their own lusts, saying, “Where is the promise of His coming?” (2 Peter iii. 3.) Amid all this, cling to Christ alone.”
    p 189 “Redemption drawing nigh: A Defence of the Premillennial Advent” (Andrew Bonar). Recommended read chapter 10.

    There are also similar views re the world and the church by people who are not pre-millennialists – there are amillennialists, post-millennialists, and many other people who do not even know what a millennialist is, who are “hunkering” and “huddling” down. I am not sure why you are singling out a particular group – particularly as it seems to fly in the face of evidence over the past 200 years? I am not a “Left Behind” fan, but whatever you may also think about it, it is very high profile and a bit “in your face” (not “hunkering”) – its aims are to open doors.

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