Cross, Creation and also Prophecy
by Rick Shrader
There are three great mountain peaks of importance in Biblical history. First and foremost is Calvary. The cross is the center of all God’s workings with this world. If the believer could say with Paul, “I determined not to know any thing among you save Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2), he would know the most important fact of all history. A second fact of history is creation. It is amazing how many times God confirms His Word or His attributes with references to creation. He did this with Job (chapters 38 & 39); the Psalms are filled with them (e.g. 19 & 104); as are the prophets (see Isa. 40); and the New Testament continues the pattern (Acts 14:17; 17:24-34; Rom. 1:20; Col. 1:16; Rev. 4:11 and many more). A third fact of history is prophecy. And this fact is the one most neglected at this present time.
Although I love to learn about creation especially with reference to evolution, and I know how important understanding creation is to a firm belief in God’s Word, I also believe that a firm grasp of prophetic events is essential today especially if, as I surely believe, we are living in the last days. Noel Smith, one of my professors in Bible College, always challenged the freshmen students to get an early and firm grasp on Genesis chapter one because this would serve them well throughout their coming ministry. This advice has been substantiated throughout our lives. But I would also say that if a young man would fully study the Bema Seat of Christ and live in the light of what will happen there, it will serve him even better in his ministry.
Within my lifetime the interest in prophecy has decreased substantially among the churches. The Bible conferences of the early twentieth century were primarily prophetic conferences. Bible Colleges, Study Bibles, prophetic books with color charts all encouraged a young generation to look for future things and evangelize in light of them. But we seem to have lost interest, or at least the interest has been overshadowed by other things. Yet this is what the Bible predicts will happen in the end times (2 Peter 3:3-4; 1 Thes. 5:3; Matt. 24:12; 1 Tim. 4:1 and 2 Tim. 3:1-5). Even creation, as important as it is, is the past, whereas prophecy is yet to happen. Creation is history to us, but prophetic things may well be contemporary to us and our children. There is no more profound statement in Scripture than Matt. 24:21, “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, nor, ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved.” Do we really believe the Lord’s statement is true? If so, how could anything be more urgent than understanding and preparing for that? The world will not be destroyed again with water, but it will be destroyed by fire (2 Pet. 3:6-7) and our generation may be the very one to suffer in that time.
The following are seven reasons why we need to revive prophetic preaching in our day.
Time: the greatest obstacle
One thing is certainly true about the second coming of Christ, it is nearer than it has ever been before. Peter explained (2 Pet. 3) that the scoffers in the last days will argue that it has been a long time since creation and all things continue as they always have been, and therefore we need not worry about the future. Peter answers that time is nothing with God (“one day is with the Lord as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day”) and, in fact, the day of the Lord is coming as a thief in the night.
It is true that some of the prophetic preaching of a generation ago was too sensational and even included some date setting, predictions and so forth. But I can’t help but think how God’s people were encouraged by looking at the current world situation and realizing that the stage could be set for prophetic things to begin. Well if the stage was set then, how much more today? I don’t think the good preachers of yesterday could have imagined how the world could have gotten worse, or how the world could be more ready for the coming of Christ, but it is. Yet, tragically, there is less preaching on the coming of Christ, not more.
Imminency: the greatest urgency
To pretribultionists the return of Jesus Christ in the air (the rapture) can happen at any moment. “Other things may happen before the imminent event, but nothing else must take place before it happens. If something else must take place before an event can happen, that event is not imminent. . . By an imminent event we mean one which is certain to occur at some time, uncertain at what time.”1 John said, “the time is at hand” (Rev. 1:3). Peter said, “But the end of all things is at hand” (1 Pet. 4:7). James was most descriptive when he said, “Behold, the judge standeth before the door” (Jas. 5:9). Our Judge is at the door, we should “all rise” at attention.
Since Jesus may come at any moment, the truth of tribulation passages becomes very urgent. No one can read Revelation chapters 4-19 and desire to be in that wrathful time nor want anyone else to be. When Jude tells us to look “for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life” (Jude 21), he also tells us “of some have compassion, making a difference: and others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire” (22-23). This imminency demands attention to evangelism.
Rapture: the greatest cataclysm
The study of Biblical history, including creation, is a study of the great cataclysms that have shaken and changed the world: creation out of nothing; the fall into sin; the universal flood; the tower of Babel; the resurrection of Jesus Christ; and the last remaking of the universe when the elements will melt with a fervent heat and there will be a new heaven and a new earth (2 Pet. 3:12-13). But consider the rapture among these great events. For those alive when it happens, it will be the most cataclysmic event since the universal flood of Noah’s day!
Every time I read 1 Thessalonians and come to 4:13-18, I slow down and think to myself what effect this will have upon the whole world. The dead in Christ stand up, then all the living saints join them in the clouds to meet the Lord there! We are talking millions of resurrected and millions of living saints ripped from this earth, from loved ones and from neighbors, and being totally gone. Do we really believe such a thing will happen and in fact might happen at any moment?
To the believer this is a mixed emotion. It is “the blessed hope” (Tit. 2:13) of the church for which we are to “look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:21). Yet, we know it will be a cut off time for many, “for when they say peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh upon them” (1 Thes. 5:3), “that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thes. 2:12). This is the next great cataclysm in world history.
Tribulation: the greatest judgment
To the question of why God doesn’t seem to do anything about the violence and suffering, the hatred and war, the murder and immorality, the answer is that He is longsuffering. Peter tells us that this longsuffering is for the sake of those who are headed for perishing (2 Pet. 3:9). The coming tribulation period is a time of awful judgment for the world’s sins committed throughout this age of grace. It is also a time of “Jacob’s trouble” (Jer. 30:7) when God will bring the last judgment upon His own people for their rejection of their Messiah Jesus Christ, and for their reception of the false Messiah, antichrist.
When the seals are opened, a fourth of the living are killed with sword, hunger, and death (Rev. 6:8). When the trumpets sound, a third of life in the sea, and “many men” die (Rev. 8:9-11). When the vials are poured out it is for the “wrath of God” (Rev. 16:1) and by this “was the third part of men killed, by the fire, and by the smoke, and by the brimstone (Rev. 9:18). Paul says that it “is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you . . . In flaming fire taking vengeance upon them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thes. 1:6-8). It will end at Armageddon when Jesus will “tread the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God” (Rev. 19:15).
We must warn people of this coming tribulation as we warn people of hell itself. We are the watchmen on the wall who see the evil coming. Jesus said, “the tribes of the earth will mourn” (Matt. 24:30) and John said, “all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him” (Rev. 1:7).
Armor: the greatest witness
When Peter writes of the destruction of the present earth, he says that we must therefore be a holy people “in all holy conversation and godliness, looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God” (2 Pet. 3:11-12). Now is not the time for worldliness in our personal lives or our methodology. This is a time for holy armor. Paul will repeat this need many times, “wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day” (Eph. 6:13); “The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light” (Rom. 13:12); “Behold now is the accepted time; behold now is the day of salvation . . . By the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left” (2 Cor. 6:2, 7); “But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for a helmet, the hope of salvation” (1 Thes. 5:8).
It is because we do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers who are Satan’s emissaries in high places (Eph. 6:12) that we must have this armor on. Paul reminded Timothy that, “in the latter days some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils” (1 Tim. 3:1). Satan is organized and has a doctrine that he uses against believers, especially those who have on the armor. When Paul was in Ephesus the demon said to the Jewish exorcist, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?” (Acts 19:15). We should ask ourselves, do the demons know me? Am I enough of a risk to their plans that I make any difference?
Evangelism: the greatest motivation
I mean by this that prophecy furnishes us with the greatest motivation to evangelize, and I have already made this point in various ways. Consider hell itself. None of us can really fathom the eternal nature of a lake of fire which is real, hot, and long (see Rev. 14:10-11). I must say that if I understand anything about it at all, I would not wish that eternity on anyone, not even my worst enemy or the most evil person in the world: not on Adolf Hitler or Saddam Hussein. Paul said, “For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Rom. 9:3). These were the people who tried to kill him, who hated him for his change of religion, who taught him that it was a service to God to kill Christians. It perhaps was, that when Paul was taken up to the third heaven (2 Cor. 12), he also caught a glimpse of the reality of an eternal hell, and it formulated his whole evangelistic point of view.
But even more than that, human beings are image-bearers of the eternal God. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son” (John 3:16). If God loves the vilest of sinners and was willing to die for his soul, who am I not to care about his salvation? Prophecy clearly informs us of the sinner’s terrible destiny. I realize also that Satan hates the sinner and wishes his damnation. It is through Satan’s lies that the sinner will not believe or be delivered from the wrath to come. “In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not” (2 Cor. 4:4); “And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will” (2 Tim. 2:26); and perhaps worst of all, “And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thes. 2:11-12). Could it be true, that refusing the gospel now will greatly hinder a person’s reception of the gospel in that time of tribulation?
Hope: the greatest cleansing
The rapture is “the blessed hope” (Tit. 2:13). Christ in us is “the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). “We are saved by hope” (Rom. 8:24). The apostle John said of prophecy and hope, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3). Prophetic studies and the expectancy of the return of Christ are the greatest motivators to our progressive sanctification.
David wrote, “As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, in thy likeness” (Psa. 17:15). Paul said, “we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body” (Phil. 3:21). “As we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly” (1 Cor. 15:49).
Some might say that living godly because we might be caught in sin when Jesus appears is an improper motivation. But is it? Isn’t that part of the reason for the Bema Seat? “Wherefore we labor, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that everyone may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:9-10). We know that we will not be judged for the guilt of our sin. That judgment took place on the cross, and praise God for that! But the reward or loss of reward is based on how we run the race. Sanctification is progressive for the believer, and we should want to be progressing not digressing when He appears.
And So . . . .
I had more thoughts than these. The apostles constantly preached the kingdom of God as our future reward and as the culmination of God’s progressive program. The New Jerusalem as the Father’s House prepared for us outshines anything we have known on this earth. And perhaps greatest of all, we shall see Him face to face, Who loved us and gave Himself for us. Amazing love! How can it be that thou my God shouldst die for me?
A few days ago I heard a recorded message of old J. Vernon McGee preaching on the second coming of Christ. McGee died in 1988 but he, though dead, yet speaks. I couldn’t help but think how his older manner and his southern drawl probably turns off most listeners today. I could only wish that my own voice would have a portion of the influence that his rusty old voice still has. Especially twenty eight years after I’m gone! They also said of the apostle Paul, “his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible” (2 Cor. 10:10). We are not here to tickle the ears of our generation but to be, like Noah, preachers of righteousness in the face of coming disaster. May God help us to be such in these latter days.
Renald Showers, Maranatha Our Lord Come! (Bellmawr, NJ: Friends of Israel, 2013) 127.