Troubling Themes and Twitter – Left Behind

Here are the responses from Matt and me for last Sunday. The questions were very thought provoking and hit the nail on the head! The emergence of God’s kingdom as it is prayed for in the Lord’s Prayer is intriguing especially since we don’t know for 100% sure exactly how it will all transpire. I hope you find our response engaging and informative as you read. Blessings.

Discuss story line of “Left Behind” series and possibility of Jesus actual return being anything similar.
I have read part of the series. It is a fictional account of the evangelical conservative tradition’s interpretation of the end times. It is centered on characters for the story line that are not Biblical figures but are necessary to carry the story. It starts with a pre-tribulation rapture account. This means that Christian believers are taken into heaven by God at the second coming of Jesus Christ. The tribulation is interpreted as a period of 7 years of great trouble around the world. For the first three and a half there is chaos. But a figure rises to power in the world called the Anti-Christ. He is a man who is filled with the spirit of evil and he takes over as the central power all over the world. Everything he says and does is to position himself above God. At the end of the tribulation Jesus comes to fight the anti-Christ and his forces and wins. This battle inaugurates the millennial (or thousand year) reign of Jesus Christ on earth. At the end of this 1,000 year reign Satan rises again for one final battle and is defeated for eternity. This establishes the eternal reign of God in the city called the New Jerusalem on what is also depicted as the New Earth. Please note that is an interpretation that is about 150 years old. In two thousand years of church history, tradition, and interpretation this is vein of thought is still in its infancy. However it is a very prevalent interpretation. I was educated in this interpretation. I believe that God will ultimately defeat all that is evil and plagues this world. I believe that Jesus will come again to establish the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. I believe that God will perfect all that is imperfect in order for us as His creation to fulfill our ultimate purpose – to praise and glorify Him. All else is open for discussion and interpretation but since we are not God it is hard to say exactly how all of this will transpire. (Jim)

When Christ 1st came he was persecuted by the religious leaders. How will he B received today?
I will do my best to answer this in light of our topic. The Bible clearly states and helps us understand that not every person will be openly awaiting the return of Jesus. The scriptures talk about two people standing in the fields harvesting and then all of the sudden one of them is gone and the other is left alone. The Biblical image is not one of Jesus being born again to have an earthly ministry like he did 2,000 years ago. It is a spiritual image that is both heavenly and earthly. It starts with Jesus appearing in “the clouds” which is image for above the ground. It ends with Jesus reigning on a renewed earth after turmoil, war, and establishment of God’s kingdom. I think some people will be ready for Christ return while others will not. I do not think we can interpret or speculate on anything beyond that. (Jim)

More than half of the world believes, in one way or another, that after death, the spirit is reborn on the earth in another body to continue learning. Does this go against Christian beliefs or can it work with our beliefs?
Nothing in the Christian tradition affirms this belief. Paul said that we are born once and we die once. Jesus when he was resurrected ascended into heaven. He was not reborn into another body to continue shaping humanity. I don’t believe in reincarnation and the Bible does not teach it. I believe the Biblical record that when we die our spirit goes to rest with God awaiting the established Kingdom of God on earth and the promise of a new and incorruptible body. (Read 1 Corinthians 15:50ff). (Jim)

Is universal salvation a possibility in your opinion?
We believe that salvation is universal and that Christ died for all. And that salvation is available to all who receive God’s grace. However, there are some who will never accept that grace in their life and it’s hard to say that all will be “saved” at the end, as some never respond to God and His work in their life. (Matt)
John wrote in his Gospel “That God love the world…” I believe that means that God loved everyone past, present, and future and that his love is sacrificial in order to establish the way for relationship. God created us for a relationship with Him. His love is universal for all people. However God does not and will not force us into a relationship. It is offered to us to either accept or reject. Therefore I do not believe in universal salvation. It is not a Biblical teaching and it is not a doctrine of the Christian faith. It is a construct of human thinking. (Jim)

Does the Bible say that there has to be an anti-Christ right before the end?
Many places in the New Testament, the word anti-Christ is used in speaking that there will be before the fulfillment of God’s kingdom. Paul warned in his letters about anti-Christs. But what is often thought of as an anti-Christ is a powerful leader that will be an oppressive world leader during the Tribulation (in Left Behind). However, Paul was especially relating to those who preached against the word of God to the people. Considering the many different leaders in the past and even the present, many of those leaders has brought oppression and believed in the power of man over God. These leaders themselves can be considered Anti-Christs. Those who prescribe to the belief of one anti-Christ during the tribulation with the number “666” specifically also should know that the beast portrayed in Revelation could be metaphorically attributed to Nero the Caesar during the day of John who wrote Revelation. So could there be one right before God’s fulfillment? Sure, but we must not look for just one, as there are many anti-Christs around us right now, preaching against the Gospel of Christ. (Matt)

In the Bible it doesn’t give a date to when the end will come, but do you think it will be coming soon?
The Bible refers that only God will know when He will return. While there have been many to speculate and “predict” (the 80s especially) no prediction or speculation has ever been right. In my own life, it is hard to tell because of the many different views and beliefs about the current world, and so I subscribe to the belief that only God knows, and I am content with that. (Matt)

So what will happen to the Muslims and Jews? Because technically they believe in the same god just not in Jesus.
In John 14:6 Jesus says to Thomas “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” In John Wesley’s notes he comments that “Jesus does not know the way, truth, and life; rather, he is all of these. And he is not merely a way but the way – because he is the unique, visible manifestation of the invisible Father.” I think the question is too narrow by naming just Muslims and Jews. But dealing with your two groups we must first understand that Jesus ministry started with his own people, Jews. He came to show them the heart of the Father for them in order to draw them back to community. Many people of his community came to believe and follow (i.e. Peter, Andrew, Matthew, Paul, etc.) as well as Gentiles or anyone who was not Jewish. Second, Islam as a religious tradition traces its roots back to a vision that the prophet Muhammad had in the desert during the 7th century. This is 600 years after Jesus. Muhammad was influenced by Judaism and Christianity because they were prevalent parts of his Middle Eastern culture. But he denied the divinity of Jesus. The Apostolic and Nicene Creeds affirm the fact that Jesus was both human and divine. Jesus was the Incarnation of God – a God who would become flesh, dwell among us, sacrifice his life for us and conquer the grave for us. To deny Jesus is to deny the God who saves no matter what your religious or non-religious affiliation. The Jewish people are God’s chosen people of the Old Testament and still but I am not God and I am not one who can judge the covenant between God and His chosen people. I would also point you to Paul’s letter to the church at Rome, chapter 11 beginning in verse 25 to the end of the chapter. (Jim)

What about children who have not reached an age of discernment?
Knowing that our God is a God of love and mercy, it is hard to say that God will condemn children who have not reached an age of discernment. God’s judgment is still in His hands, but knowing His character embodied in Christ’s life and what we have seen, God likely will not condemn such children. (Matt)
Wesleyan tradition uses a term called prevenient grace. It means that it is God’s grace that comes before we are ever aware of it. It is the grace that God give through the waters of baptism when parents bring their infant or small child to the font for the sacrament. Christian tradition has consistently affirmed through the centuries the words of Jesus “Suffer the little children to come unto me…” Even John Calvin and his understanding of the total depravity of human nature could not condemn children. We still believe and follow the tradition of the faith that says a child under the age of discernment is protected by God’s prevenient grace. Further we use a catechesis model called Confirmation to introduce a youth to God, God’s work of salvation, what it means for them and the responsibility it invites them to knowing that the Holy Spirit can use this as the moment of discernment. (Jim)

When you die do you go to heaven or do you go to grave till God comes back?
The body goes to the grave and we know that because daily we take bodies to be buried. The spirit/soul goes to reside with the Lord but this is not the end. The first letter to the Thessalonian church confirms the church practice and belief of the soul being united with a glorified body at the second coming of Jesus. This is part of the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. (Jim)

If we’re not supposed to worry about the details of ‘the end’, then why is there so much text on it in both Old/New Testaments?
I think we shouldn’t “worry” about the details of the fulfillment of God’s Kingdom as it is a hopeful message. Should we be interested? I would think so considering our curiosity as human beings. But what so many miss with “worrying” about the end is that it shouldn’t be something to worry about, but something to look forward to, in that we will be welcomed by our Creator, our Savior. And the texts in the Bible that speak of the end have that same intention, not to make people worry, but to inspire people and give them hope, a hope worth sharing with the rest of the world. Living in the here and now and anticipating the fulfillment of God’s Kingdom inspires us to live differently, a life of hope. (Matt)

Does the second coming correspond to the “end of the world”? Honestly this is all scary, not exciting.
It can be frightening can’t it? And some ways of talking about these things can lead to fear. However, God fulfilling His Kingdom, redeeming all creation to Himself shouldn’t necessarily scare us, because we as Christians have the assurance of salvation with Jesus Christ. And on that day, that salvation will bring us to God, our redeemer, our Creator, our Savior. However in that light, we should be inspired to action to have others know about that salvation so that too will be a part of God’s kingdom at the end. Our intention today to speak about this topic was to hopefully inspire hope and calm fears. (Matt)

Are books like left behind a hindrance on our walk with Christ? Often it seems as though people use them as fact and then live in fear.
It is important to realize that the Left Behind series was properly labeled as “Religious Fiction” and those who bought and read the series should’ve been alerted to that label. However, with the rise of Left Behind came an overwhelming amount of commentaries and books about being left behind. And with that did come much fear to those who believed the books. Hopefully these things encouraged people to look into the fulfillment of God’s Kingdom themselves and to see the hope that we have. However, reaction does not always mirror intention. Can such fear from a book hinder our walk with Christ? In a way it can, using fear as a way of alerting us into salvation. What our walk should be based on is the hopeful redeeming salvation from Jesus Christ. (Matt)

This is related to earlier question – is the American dream and capitalism compatible with Christianity? Can an American with some focus on building value, security and retirement really claim to be focusing on God’s will – as a result will they be in God’s good grace?
People in Christian and non-Christian circles argue the first question all the time. Some interpret the American way of life as blessed by God and because of manifest destiny proclaim us to be God’s new Israel. Others interpret scripture and say that because the disciples of Jesus had a common purse in order to maintain equality that this would be the best system to live under. Capitalism has fostered a lot of great things when it comes to advancement in technology, science, medicine, education, agriculture and on. It has also fostered a lot of foreign ill-will, egalitarianism, and voracious greed. In ways capitalism is compatible with Christianity and in many ways it is not. With that said, we really do not have any other societal construct that is on par with or better than our current political, social, and economic system. We do pray for the kingdom of God to come upon the earth because we understand it to be a theocracy where all will be equal in every facet.
Regarding the second question, I believe that we can build value, security and plans for a retirement. The problem is that we are a culture of excess. We compete with our neighbors over who has the better house, furniture, car, yard, toys, bank account, retirement account and so not to be outdone, we poor excessive energy and effort into getting ahead of everyone else in our circle. That becomes our god!!! When money, possessions, and plans become our god then we fall out of God’s will for our lives. If we could honest shed much of the excess that we have and learn to live simply we would be more generous with our time, talent and treasure. Unfortunately we are consumed by our appetite of gain. (Jim)

So if the dead will enter with the living into the kingdom of God, where are the dead now?
Again, the first letter to the Thessalonian church is dealing with a very specific issue. People were expecting Jesus to return during their life time but they began dying before the return of Jesus. Paul writes to reassure them of the fact that the dead will be resurrected to receive their incorruptible body as a part of the kingdom of God on earth. Those who are dead now; their spirit is in the presence of God awaiting the second coming of Jesus and the fulfillment of God’s promise. (Jim)

Aren’t our bodies vessels while on earth & it’s our spirit that goes go heaven?
Yes. For further response please look at the two questions above that deal with the body and the soul/spirit. (Jim)

What do you think the 7 bowls symbolize?
The passage of Revelation 15 reflects upon the exodus experience of Israel. It is a song of deliverance but the fact that deliverance comes with a price. The deliverance of the early Christian movement experiencing life-threatening persecution came at the expense of the Roman Empire and its world-wide collapse. The deliverance of God’s people in the end comes at the expense of the all the forces both spiritual and flesh who side against God. The 7 bowls are metaphorical language used to describe the fact that it is God who is both deliverer and vindicator of His creation. (Jim)

But aren’t our bodies just “vessels”, why do we need them in the Kingdom? And what of those that are cremated?
When God created the earth, as well as humanity, He created not just the soul but the body as well. We constantly relate salvation and God’s grace simply to the soul; however God wants to redeem the entire creation He made. The concept of bodies as vessels for the soul is a very Greek and came about through the work of the Greek philosophers. While there are so many different theories about what happens when you die, we honestly can say we don’t know. But when God fulfills the Kingdom, He redeems the complete creation, the body and the soul. And as far as those who are cremated, we must realize that this is the God that created us out of the dirt, so it is not so hard to see His ability to redeem a body that is cremated. (Matt)

How should we as Christians avoid who’s in /out when explaining end of times as it often leads to our judgment of others?
I think that we should focus our conversation on what God is begging us to become as a representative community of followers. If we focus on allowing God to transform our lives in a way that will create greater love for Him, love for our neighbor that equals or surpasses our self love, and moves us to serve the world, then we would lose all need to judge others. The end of time should be anticipated because it is the end of war, disease, famine, decay, and death. God promises to restore all to wholeness and with it His human creation that God is in covenant relationship with. The invitation is for all to be in but the reality is that not all will be in. (Jim)

Matt just said that god will judge the living and the dead….is judgment for the dead postponed until the return?
From what we can see in our passage on Sunday, and from what we believe in the creeds (Apostle’s and the Nicene), yes they will be judged with the living at the fulfillment of the Kingdom. (Matt)

Regarding the Jew/Muslim question…are you saying that Christ is not the only way to reconciliation with God?
Please refer to the answer to the Jew/Muslim question above. I think it plainly states the Christian tradition and my faith stand on the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. (Jim)

About Jim Hoffman

Pastor, teacher, leader, novice blogger, wanna be author and Christian conversationalist. Passionate about environmental architecture - creating spaces where people can foster new or growing relationships with each other and God. Currently leads a faith community on Ward Parkway in Kansas City and happily married to Margaret. Blessed with four adult children and two grandsons.
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