Could We Show Compassion to This Man?

There are plenty of heinous things that take place on a regular basis in our world today. We are not privy to such in our day, as if we are in more desperate times than previous days. I believe such has always been prevalent in the history of mankind. It’s just that we have the media and internet today to help emphasise it even more.

In recent months, we have heard of Terry Jones and the Qur’an burning or Jared Lee Loughner and the Tucson shooting, and now many know the name Harold Camping from his recent prediction of the ‘rapture’ that was to take place on 21 May 2011. Obviously, as most of us suspected, it didn’t take place.

With such acts, our tendency is to, no doubt, ridicule these people. Simple mockery and ridicule. And we, Christians, can easily step in and add to the one voice of jeers and sneers as well. Though we love to back up a lot of this by stating we are simply speaking the truth in love, such is far from any notion of being able to be backed up by this quoting of the biblical text. Continue reading

The End of the World?

I think that, by now, most are aware of recent predictions that the ‘rapture’ was supposed to take place on 21 May 2011, which was yesterday. I don’t want to join in with all the bashing of Harold Camping. We claim that Camping is making Christianity look nuts. But we must remember that we can contribute to such an outlook from the world as we participate as well. Anyways….moving on.

Still, amongst many Christians, I do recognise somewhat of an askew perspective on biblical eschatology (this word simply means ‘a study of last things’). I’m not claiming to have all the in’s and out’s figured out, all my i’s dotted and t’s crossed. But there are some more basic concepts that we need to remember, which I will try and lay out below. Continue reading

What Is The Rapture?

Though probably not as discussed as the topic of women’s roles in the church today, the ‘rapture’ has probably been one of the most discussed topics in the 20th century. For some, when approaching eschatology (the study of last things), they cannot stop talking about it. For others, they are tired of hearing about it.

But what is the rapture? What is this whole thing all about?

For starters, the word never actually appears in our English translations of Scripture. Our versions use the phrase ‘caught up’ found in 1 Thess 4:17. The word, rapture, is in fact derived from the Latin translation of the Bible (known as the Vulgate).

In getting our heads around the rapture, the best place to start would be 1 Thess 4:13-18.

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Oddly enough, in this section, Paul’s ends by stating: ‘Therefore encourage one another with these words.’ Unfortunately, when most people talk about the rapture, they don’t refer to it with encouraging words. The passage can be utilised to scare people, and it becomes very unhelpful with the verses being used in the exact opposite way Paul intended.

Again, if we read vs17, we find the little phrase ‘caught up’. This is translated from the Greek word harpagēsometha (the NT was written in Greek, so that is why it would be important to know such language background). At the root of this long Greek word, harpagēsometha, is the Greek word harpazo, which carries the idea of a known stealing. This contrasts with the Greek word klepto, which means to steal secretly.

Now, why the lesson in Greek here? Well, when many people teach on the subject of the rapture, they usually speak of it as a secret event. Once the church gets raptured away and taken out of the earth, the rest of humanity are left looking around and wondering what just happened. But, according to the New Testament Greek, this is going to be an event in which all people know what has taken place. Christ will be returning for his Bride and he will make sure all know about the event.

The second important phrase in vs17 is ‘to meet’. So on to another Greek lesson.

These English words come from the Greek phrase eis apantēsis. Now, all Christians believe in this ‘meeting in the air’ (or rapture) with our Lord. The question is: What do we believe about it?

The phrase eis apantēsis means this: to leave a place in order to go and meet one who is coming toward you. It is similar to the practise in that day when nobles of a city would go out to meet an important dignitary coming to visit their city in order to escort him back to the city.

Thus, it seems the ever-discussed passage in 1 Thess 4 is teaching that Christ will be coming for his Bride, we will go to meet our Bridegroom in the air, and then we will escort him back to earth (the place he was coming towards already). Then, in continuing the discussion on eschatology, this would lead to the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev 17:7-9), with us dwelling forever in the new heaven and new earth (Rev 21-22).

Many people use the passage in 1 Thess to speak as if Christ is going to take us, the church, out of the earth during a seven-year tribulation period. And to back up this teaching, they also look to Matthew’s Gospel to find support. Read these intriguing words:

For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. (24:37-43)

But if we read this passage carefully, we can realise that it is not teaching that we are going to be taken out of the earth. Jesus taught that it would be like the days of Noah – two men will be in the field, one will be taken and one left; two women will be grinding at the mill, one will be taken and one left. Many see this as referring to a rapture of the church out of the earth.

Yet, remember – what happened in Noah’s day? Who was left and who was taken away? It was the righteous who were left on earth (Noah and his family) and it was the unrighteous who were taken out of the earth in judgment. Noah and his family were left to inherit a kind of new earth and new heaven. Thus, a prototype for the end of the age.

You see, it is not God’s plan to take His people out of the earth, but it is His plan to bring His kingdom rule to the earth as it is in heaven (Matt 6:10). God’s heart is to see heaven completely invade earth one day, bringing His righteous, peace and rule to all that He created. All the while, He will have dealt with and judged all unrighteousness and sin.

This is why I believe Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth’ (Matt 5:5). And that is why it is the New Jerusalem, the Bride of Christ, who comes to inherit a new heaven and new earth (Rev 21:1-3).

God’s plan is not to ultimately get us out of the earth. But, as He has made His people new creations in Christ (2 Cor 5:17), He also longs to restore and redeem the physical earth to make it even better than it was in the beginning (Rom 8:21). It will be the final ‘new creation’. His purpose is to dwell with us forever on the new earth as He brings the fulness of His kingdom at the return of Christ.

With eschatology, I believe this is getting back to the truth of what Scripture teaches, rather than to a lot of timetables and conjectures of ‘the end’. So let us not hold to any theology that might embrace the idea that we will abandon the earth, for God has a great purpose to redeem and restore it to its original intention. And we will be able to enjoy it with Him for all eternity!

Perelandra and the Beginning

Recently, I finished the second book of C.S. Lewis’s The Space Trilogy entitled Perelandra. A few weeks ago, I posted some thoughts as I had reached about the half-way point, but I wanted to share some final words now after completing the book. And, if you are interested, I also shared my thoughts on the first book of the series, Out of the Silent Planet.

This is my first time to read through this particular series. I did not grow up a Christian, so I would not have read books like The Space Trilogy nor others such as The Chronicles of Narnia. Therefore, in one sense, I am playing a little catch up on some of the classics of Christian fiction.

Perelandra, being the second book of the trilogy, is all about Ransom’s (the main character) visit to the planet Perelandra, which is known as Venus in our language. The first book, Out of the Silent Planet, is about Ransom’s visit to Malacandra (or Mars). Earth is known as Thulcandra in this series.

I wish I could think of such interesting names for a deeply-mythological fiction series.

Soon after Ransom’s arrival to the planet of Perelandra, the reader begins to realise that he is in a world that has not yet experienced sin. Or, in the traditional evangelical language, Perelandra exists in a ‘pre-Fall’ state. Yet Ransom’s old nemesis, Weston, soon arrives as a kind of serpent-like tempter. His main role is to bring down the Eve-like figure of Perelandra, she being known as the Green Lady.

Interestingly enough, Weston develops into quite the extraordinary evil character, and from then on he is referred to as the Un-man. Ransom sees himself as a provision to the Green Lady to assist her in not succumbing to the temptation of evil incarnate. As I mentioned in my previous article on this book, whereas on Earth the temptation was to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, here on Perelandra the temptation is to get the Green Lady to live upon the Fixed Land rather than the islands that float upon the water.

[Note: spoiler coming forth for the ending.]

In the end, Ransom is able to defeat Weston, the Un-man, and the first temptation of Perelandra is averted and, thus, disobedience and sin are kept at bay. With such a conquering victory, the book ends with a coronation ceremony of the man and woman of Perelandra becoming King and Queen.

All of the celestial beings – from the eldila (angelic beings) to the Oyéresu (plural of Oyarsa, which are presiding angels) – and the animals of Perelandra join in for this festive celebration. These words describe what has happened:

‘The world is born to-day,’ said [the Oyarsa of] Malacandra. ‘To-day for the first time two creatures of the low worlds, two images of Maleldil [Christ] that breathe and breed like the beasts, step up that step at which your parents fell, and sit in the throne of what they were meant to be. It was never seen before. Because it did not happen in your world a greater thing happened, but not this. Because the greater thing happened in Thulcandra [Earth], this and not the greater thing happens here.’

Now, don’t get the wrong idea. Lewis is not suggesting with the phrase, ‘the greater thing happened’, that it was good that sin entered our world. But he is recognising that redemption through Jesus Christ is quite a fantastic thing, even somehow a ‘greater’ thing. It was avoidable through resistance of the temptation. But, with sin and death entering in to our world through the disobedience of the first Adam, such an awesome thing as redemption has now taken place.

Oh, to imagine what it would have been like if sin and death had never entered our world. Oh, to ponder the possibility. Well, we are headed towards a day when it shall be as if sin had never taken place. All of creation will be redeemed, for it still cries out for such a day!

But here is what caught my attention the most from Perelandra.

As the book nears its conclusion, a conversation takes place between Ransom and the King, Tor. It goes something like this:

‘And that,’ said Ransom, ‘will be the end?’

Tor the King stared at him.

‘The end?’ he said. ‘Who spoke of an end?’

‘The end of your world, I mean,’ said Ransom.

‘Splendour of heaven!’ said Tor. ‘Your thoughts are unlike ours. About that time we shall be not far from the beginning of all things. But there will be one matter to settle before the beginning rightly begins.’

Tor goes on to explain that there will be a siege upon Thulcandra [Earth], led by Maleldil himself, to defeat the Dark Lord, the Black Oyarsa.

Tor goes on to exclaim:

‘I do not call it the beginning,’ said Tor the King. ‘It is but the wiping out of a false start in order that the world may then begin. As when a man lies down to sleep, if he finds a twisted root under his shoulder he will change his place – and after that his real sleep begins. Or as a man setting foot on an island, may make a false step. He steadies himself and after that his journey begins. You would not call that steadying of himself a last thing?’

One of the Oyarsa present at the coronation goes on to explain that this beginning will be entering into the Great Dance that has been going on for all eternity.

‘The Great Dance does not wait to be perfect until the peoples of the Low Worlds are gathered into it. We speak not of when it will begin. It has begun from before always. There was no time when we did not rejoice before His face as now. The dance which we dance is at the centre and for the dance all things were made. Blessed be He!’

This sounds a bit similar to some thoughts that come out of perichoresis theology, which looks at the inter-relational nature of the Trinity, specifically calling all of creation to join in the dance of the Father, Son and Spirit.

But, more than anything, to recognise that ‘the end’ is not really the end but the real beginning seems a much better approach with regards to our eschatology. For it is not about this earth being done away with, nor our physical bodies being completely put away so that we can be free ‘spiritual beings’. Rather this is all about the renewal and restoring of the created order. We taste of the new creation now. Jesus is even now making all things new. But one day all things will be completely and finally renewed, restored, made right. We will be part of a cosmos in which we were always intended to be a part of.

I think that is a healthy view of ‘last things’, or eschatology. Heaven and earth will collide and become one, bringing about a real and new physical earth in which righteousness will dwell forever. That brings hope, that stirs vision, that encourages patient endurance until that day is initiated at the return of Bridegroom.