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Archive for October, 2012

Time vs Eternity

The difficulty of comprehending eternity

It is very difficult to imagine eternity, especially if we try to quantify it from a time perspective. Or if we think of eternity in a linear format as having an infinite past and an infinite future, with the passing of an infinite amount of time. The metaphors that I have heard, such as “eternity is like a bird rubbing its beak on a diamond the size of the earth and when the diamond is worn away, eternity has just begun” gives a completely wrong perspective that will never explain eternity.

The Bible gives us insight on eternity

The Bible does however shed light on how we can conceive of eternity. When Moses was instructed by God to free Israel from Egypt, he asked God, who he should say had sent him and by what name God should be made known. God’s profound answer opens a brief curtain on eternity and gives us a perspective from which we can begin to understand the concept of eternity. “God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’ ” (Ex 3:14) ‘I AM’ is not really a name but rather indicates a state of existence. God was therefore indicating His eternal Being. There is no “I was” or “I shall be” with God, there is only “I AM”. He exists outside of time and does not have a beginning or an end.

We need to add to this the invaluable insight that Paul gives to us when he says “…  the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Co 4:18) To complete the picture we need to also consider what the writer of Hebrews says about creation. “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” (Heb 11:3)

The picture of eternity forms as we put these facts together

With these facts before us we are able to conclude that there is an enormous or infinitely large, unseen, but eternal arena in which God dwells. Within this arena God placed a ‘time capsule’ by creating a visible material universe. “In the beginning ..” (Gen 1:1) indicates the start of time. Paul tells us that there is an end to time; “Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.” (1 Co 15:24) The visible, material universe therefore has a time limit placed upon it.

God steps into time to offer us eternity

At God’s appointed time, which the Bible calls the ‘fullness of time’ God stepped out of the unseen eternal arena and into the material visible creation, in the form of a man; the man, Christ Jesus.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (Jn 1:14)

He came to offer us an existence with God in His eternal arena, or quite simply; eternal life. Eternal life is therefore not an infinitely long life, but an eternal existence with God.

A man got a glimpse of eternity

Paul had a glimpse of this eternal arena when he was caught up to the 3rd Heaven (God’s eternal arena), it had such an impact upon him that he made the following statements:

I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith,” (Php 1:23–25)

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Ro 8:18)

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Co 4:17–18)

If we have received the gift of eternal life from the Lord Jesus Christ, we will continue to pass our time in this visible universe, but we by grace, qualify to live in the eternal arena with God.

What happens when we die?

When we die, we vacate this visible world which has an expiry date and we are immediately present with the Lord in His eternal arena. We wait in this arena, while time passes on earth, until the moment of the Resurrection.  “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” (2 Co 5:1)

Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” (2 Co 5:8)

At an appointed time God will give the signal, the Trumpet will blow, there will be the shout of the Archangel and everyone who has received the gift of eternal life through faith in Jesus, will receive a body that is fit for our eternal existence with God.

I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.” (1 Co 15:50–53)

It is for this reason that Paul says:  “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Co 4:16–18)

 

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HEDONISTS AND MARTYRS

I have been too busy recently to update my Blog with new material, but  received the article below from a friend and colleague, which resonated with my own thoughts on church history. For a long time I have been convinced that the church history we read is the history of the visible institutionalized (man-made) organizations rather than the story of the true church. It is also very sobering to see how much persecution of the true church still continues today! A ‘Hedonist’ is a person whose life is devoted to the pursuit of pleasure and self-gratification.

Article by Anton Bosch

While reviewing church history recently I was reminded of some of the things we should learn from history. But before I share those with you, I want to remind you that what normally passes for church history is the history of the apostate church (lower case “c”). The history of the true Church is not normally taught in Bible schools and seminaries except for a passing mention to the little groups of true believers that were a thorn in the side of the institutional churches.

The following are the central truths we learn from Church history:

  • Even in the darkest hours of the last 2,000 years there have always been true believers and true Churches in this world.
  • The real Church has always been small in numbers and poor in political power, finances and popularity.
  • True churches and believers have always been persecuted.

It is on this third point I want to dwell for a few minutes. Persecution has come from many different sources, even though the ultimate source remains Satan and his forces.

The Jews, initially under the leadership of Saul of Tarsus, persecuted and killed believers beginning with Stephen. Of course Jesus was the first “Christian” martyr, and before the New Testament many prophets were also brutally killed by Israel because of their message.

The Roman government persecuted and brutally martyred the believers for almost 300 years until Constantine in 312AD.

Immediately after 312 the Roman church took over from the Roman government and began to persecute believers who did not submit to their authority. Persecution under the Church of Rome continued for the next 1700 years right up to the present, reaching its peak during the inquisition (c. 1200 to c. 1600). It is very difficult to find an accurate estimate of the numbers of people killed by the Roman church but the best studies indicate a number of around 80 million Christians in addition to witches and others killed by Rome![1]

Even while Rome was killing Protestants, the Reformation leaders were torturing and killing Anabaptists and other believers who disagreed with them. Just one of many to die at the hand of the Reformers was Michael Sattler, a true believer. “He was shamefully mutilated in different parts of the town, then brought to the gate, and what remained of him thrown on the fire, His wife and some other Christian women were drowned, and a number of brethren who were with him in prison were beheaded.”[2] Most of the Protestant leaders, including Luther, engaged in the most severe and cruel torture and murder of anyone who disagreed with them but the most vicious of all was Calvin. In Geneva he institutionalized torture and death as a legitimate means to change people’s views and purge the “church” of dissenters.

In addition there are the massive persecutions of Christians, many still ongoing, by Muslims, Chinese Governments, Communists and all sorts of other unbelievers right across the world. Just recently I was shocked to hear that a friend, and former colleague, as well as two women, were brutally killed and mutilated by Satanists in South Africa, making them (as far as I know) the first martyrs to die for the faith in South Africa. It is estimated that today[3], more Christians in the world are being persecuted than are free to worship the true God. A comprehensive Pew Forum study last year found that Christians are persecuted in 131 countries containing 70 percent of the world’s population. Other studies indicate that between 100,000 and 200,000 Christians are being martyred for their faith every year[4] and that around 200 million Christians are denied fundamental human rights because of their faith.

All this should not come as a surprise since the New Testament is replete with statements that persecution would be the norm for Christians. In Jesus’ first mention about the Church he spoke of the war that would be brought against His Church. “…on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18). Paul said: “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” (2 Timothy 3:12). And Peter said “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you” (1 Peter 4:12).

In spite of the evidence of history and the plain teaching of the Bible, the vast majority of Christians in the so-called “Free World”, still believe that it is the right of Christians to be popular, fairly treated and respected and that a “happy” life should be the norm for believers.

But as I read again about how most true Christians have been mistreated and how they lived as vagabonds and fugitives throughout the last two centuries, I began to think about my own life and how easily I complain about the relatively minor inconveniences and rejection I experience because of the truth. I felt ashamed that I dare complain when thousands, right now, are experiencing the most extreme physical pain, emotional anguish and death for the sake of the Gospel. Who am I to grumble when I am free to come and go, live in relative comfort and enjoy the company of my wife while others are in prison, being tortured and killed?

But I also thought about how easily many stay away from the gathering of believers because it is too hot, too cold, or they are too tired because of watching TV or partying too late on Saturday night. I struggle to reconcile this picture with the one of men and women being torn apart by dogs, their limbs pulled from their bodies on the rack and the smell of burning human flesh on the fires of the persecutors. I struggle to understand how some are unwilling to give up their sinful pleasures when millions have to give up their very lives.

I struggle to understand how the pleasure-centered and self-centered “Christian” of the West can claim to share a common faith with the martyrs. I struggle to understand how preachers who preach a gospel of happiness, prosperity and popularity believe that their message is the same message that was preached by the faithful minority of the last 2,000 years, who like the prophets of old: “…had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented – of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.” (Hebrews 11:36-38).

Can the faith that results in persecution, torture, and death be the same faith that promises carnal happiness, a new Mercedes and popularity? Can the faith that pursues pleasure, comfort and earthly happiness be the same faith that counts it a privilege to suffer for His name?  Will the hedonist[5] and the martyr share the same heaven?


[1] David A Plaisted. Estimates of the Number Killed by the Papacy in the Middle Ages and Later. 2006.

[2] E. H. Broadbent. The Pilgrim Church. Gospel Folio Press. Grand Rapids, MI. 1999. p182.

[3] October 2012

[4] David B. Barrett, Todd M. Johnson, and Peter F. Crossing in their 2009 report in the International Bulletin of Missionary Research (Vol. 33, No. 1: 32) say the figure is about 200,000 per year and rising.

[5] Hedonist = a person whose life is devoted to the pursuit of pleasure and self-gratification.

 

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