To Switch or Not to Switch, That is the Question… Abraham and the Loyalty Test (Genesis 22)

In just a few short days Nintendo will release the long-awaited Nintendo Switch console into the outstretched arms of their adoring fan base.  As a die-hard Nintendo fan myself, I will confess to a large amount of bias for the company that that represents many of my happiest memories from my childhood up until now.  They have earned my goodwill, and to be honest they have earned my brand loyalty as they have continued to innovate and defy market trends by remaining steadfastly “Nintendo” without apology.  So needless to say, when this console releases I will be coming home with one on launch day just as many of you might as well.

What is it about Nintendo that inspires such fan fervor?  It has to be more than nostalgia, because many of their new IPs such as Splatoon and Pikmin are just as beloved as their classic licenses like Mario and Zelda.  It is all about the word “loyalty”, and the more I thought about this the more I questioned what this really means in this day and age.  Celebrities are one ill-timed tweet away from disgrace, directors are one failed movie away from unemployment, and game makers are cast aside as soon as they have shipped their title in many cases.  Marriage relationships are failing at an all-time high rate and those who merely co-habitate don’t fare any better.

As a society we have struggled to come to terms with the word loyalty and have mistaken it for “mutually beneficial relationships”.  Loyalty rarely lasts longer than the length of time it benefits the individuals involved, and unfortunately our relationship with the Lord is no different.  One of the best examples of this is one of the hardest to understand sequences in the Bible… when the Lord asked Abraham to do the unthinkable and sacrifice his dream as well as his son Isaac to see if his loyalty was real.  After years of a mutually beneficial relationship, Abraham’s loyalty would be put to the test in an effort to see whether he truly followed the Lord, or just the blessings that were promised to him.

In Genesis 22:2 the predicament presents itself.  God calls out to Abraham and utters a phrase that I doubt anyone could imagine coming from His lips, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”  That would be a moment in which I would be quite certain I had not heard the Lord clearly and would need to do some validation.  But this is occurring in Genesis 22, which means there was no Bible to refer to yet, no Scriptures to cross-reference, and no Christian bookstores full of self-help books on what to do when God asks you to sacrifice your child on an altar.  There was just the command of the Lord and the expectation of an obedient response.

Place yourself in this man’s shoes for a moment.  He has lived his entire life with a name that held a meaning that was a mockery of his childlessness.  He has carried the burden of a dream that seemed impossible only to finally experience the breakthrough that should lead to good times, and now he is being commanded to personally KILL his dream.  When the Lord requires you to return what He has given you, that is an entirely different level of losing.  With Job, Joseph, or Ruth they did not have any choice in what happened to them.  There was no warning, it simply happened.  Abraham, on the other hand, has the unique requirement to be the executioner of his lifelong dream.  Not to simply give it up, but to hold the knife in his hand and end it.

Further complicating this is the awkward reality that God is not asking him to merely give up on his dream to own a home with some land, or a career choice, or maybe a ministry that you hoped to build.  He is requiring the life of his physical child to be returned to Him through a sacrifice on an altar.  This runs completely against everything we thought we knew about the Lord at this point and may challenge many people’s theology in a very uncomfortable way.  But remember, as the Creator the very dust we are made from belongs to Him, along with the breath of life He breathed into our lungs.  We may not always agree with the means with which these are returned, but when He requires our dust to return to dust we cannot forget that He is sovereign and has the right to.

Abraham, to his credit, does not appear to flinch in his obedience to lead his dream down the green mile.  He even got up early in the morning (Gen 22:3) and got right to it.  For someone who is about to sacrifice their child and lose their dream forever this is a demonstration of remarkable unwavering faith that at this point seems a bit misplaced.  As he and Isaac proceeded to face down the loss of both Abraham’s dream as well as Isaac’s life God steps in at the last minute to put a halt to the proceedings, having fully tested Abraham’s faith and obedience and proving that Abraham would give back to the Lord anything that he requires, no matter how precious.  If Abraham was going to lose, he was going to do it with the belief that the Lord would still provide.  He didn’t understand how, and he didn’t have to.  He simply chose losing at the hand of the Lord over any other alternative, and by proving to God that he would rather serve his Creator than serve his dream, he received the blessing of both in return.

So now for us.  It is not terribly likely that God is going to ask any of us to perform an act of obedience to Him similar to what Abraham just endured.  But He does require things from us, and many times it is through these tests that we have the opportunity to prove to both him and ourselves the true nature of our devotion.  Do we serve Him only when He is answering prayers and fulfilling promises, or are we more than fair-weather followers?   God is looking for early-adopter disciples like Abraham, who look at circumstances such as these and understand that they are a validation of our loyalty.  Anyone can follow Him in the good times, but only someone who is truly loyal to Him will blindly obey even when it doesn’t make any sense and stretches our understanding of who He truly is.

I will be there day one for the Switch, and Nintendo will always be able to count on me to plunk down my hard-earned dollars to support their next innovation.  But much more important than that, as I consider what loyalty truly means, it meant following them through the dark days… playing cartridges when others were showing off their shiny CD-roms.  It required espousing the virtues of Mario in a world that was embracing space marines.  And when everyone else had a controller that made sense, I had to wave a remote around and pretend that this was optimal.  But in the end, we are here at the launching point of yet another hardware and I want a front row seat.   And with the Lord, we also must choose to follow when the directions make very little sense, when it seems that we are behind the times, or when what He is asking looks embarrassing or is unpopular.

Someday He may ask for what you value the most, such as with Abraham and Isaac.  Will your loyalty to Him go beyond when the relationship is mutually beneficial?  Do you follow Him, or your vision of what He is?  When He asks you to lose, to suffer, or to deny yourself will you still follow?  It is not easy to be loyal.  There is a cost requirement which involves suspending your disbelief and restricting your impulsive, instinctual responses.  But this is the follower that Christ is looking for… and the deeper we prove ourselves loyal to Him through accepting the undesirable the more fulfilling our relationship with Him becomes.  Each and every day we are given the opportunity to choose between loyalty to the Father or to partake in only those actions that are of benefit to both of us.  To step out onto troubled waters or wait safely in the boat.  Are we ready to flip the Switch?

 

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The Future is Bright… for Robot Dinosaurs: Ruth and the Rising of a New Dawn (Ruth 1-4)

We are a week away from the launch of the hotly anticipated Horizon Zero Dawn, a title that looks poised to launch an entirely new franchise if it lives up to even half of it’s early press.  This mash-up of a primitive, post-apocalyptic world dominated by robot dinosaurs clearly occupies a space that has yet to have been tapped into, and if early gameplay videos hold true we are all about to jump into a setting that will alter our perspective of an open-world game once again.  But like many games before it, this world seems to hold some closely guarded secrets and the concept of a entire society that has lost their position as the dominant species on the planet adds a melancholy undertone to the entire adventure.  How did mankind fall into this position?  The concept of loss seems rife within this story of a pack of survivors led by a female protagonist who refuses to submit to the oppressive environment of the world around her.  As I considered this I found a commonality between her path and the Biblical story of Ruth, another female lead character in a story filled with loss and a harsh environment that would have crushed many.  If the night is darkest before the dawn, then the night was truly dark for Ruth as we begin reading her tale…

The book of Ruth is often used by writer’s as a beautiful romance between a man and a woman, or more often as example of the epic love story between God (played by Boaz) and his people (played by Ruth).  And while all this is well and good and clearly Boaz is a figure of Christ in the future, the reality is for Ruth this was not a story.  This was her REAL LIFE, and it for her it was neither romantic or beautiful… it was PAIN and LOSS.  She was not aware that someday her tale would be told in all of the forms of media that it exists in now, or that she was destined to become part of the parental lineage of Jesus Christ Himself.  No, there was not a Hallmark Channel symbol on the cover of her DVD when she woke up one morning to the news that her husband was dead.  It was grim reality and she had to deal with it.

Do us both a favor and forget everything you know about this story and just live it the way that Ruth had to.  She did not have the perspective of the future and was in a very difficult predicament here.  As a widowed woman, she was still provided for in her society because her husband’s brother would now take the responsibility of caring for her.  Only that usual solution would also be a problem… because HE just died TOO.  So bereft of her own husband as well as the typical arrangement of going to the next-of-kin for support, Ruth turns to her mother-in-law who is also a widow for guidance.  This first wives/widows club meeting came to order with no small amount of panic.  The immediate concern:  food and shelter.  Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law, speaks to both of her daughters-in-law and guides them to return back to their homes and start their lives over with a new husband, which is honestly pretty good advice.  It took some convincing, but one of her daughters-in -law sees the writing on the wall and concedes, heading back home and out of historical significance forever.  When the going gets tough abandoning those who need you is never a response that will be rewarded.

Ruth declines the easier road and decides to tough it out with Naomi, with a beautiful and poetic statement of commitment and the famous quotations, “Where you go, I will go.  Where you lodge, I will lodge.  Your God will be my God.”  Ruth had a powerful way with words, and convinced Naomi to let her come along towards an uncertain future for them both.  I highly encourage you to read the entirety of it in context, as this has been used for everything from marriage vows to inspirational sermons and shows us the heart of Ruth and why she has been chosen for such a prominent place in Scripture. The voyage of the first wives/widows club is about to begin…

As Ruth and Naomi arrive in Bethlehem Ruth immediately jumps into action, leaning into the accepted practice for widows by gleaning the fields. No time for feeling sorry for herself and her horrendous circumstances… if she wants to eat tonight she is going to need to do something about it.  And as she acts on her faith to provide for her and her mother-in-law God steps in to begin the process of redemption with a phrase that I find humorous in its innocence… in Ruth 2:3 the phrase’ “She HAPPENED to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz”.  If there is anything that should be clear at this point, there is no “happen-stance” with God.  She placed her faith in God and in response He placed her in the exact position where Boaz, her “kinsman-redeemer” had a field ripe for the gleaning.

Now if you are not familiar with the concept of kinsman-redeemer, you are not alone, as it is not something that exists in our current culture.  But in those times, it was considered a responsibility of the nearest family member to take the widow of their family member as a wife to prevent widespread widow and orphan issues.  Keep in mind that the ONLY reason Ruth was even in a position to enjoy this act of redemption is because she had to LOSE her husband, his brother, and her father-in-law and then follow her mother-in-law in blind faith to her future provision.  Boaz may have been a wonderful man, but he was not coming to Moab to look for Ruth.  If she had stayed behind in Moab she may have gained a new husband in the process and maybe achieved REPLACEMENT status, but God had something far grander in mind.  Through her faith in a God who allowed her to lose everything she was able to not only gain redemption for herself and her family, but she became grafted into the future redemption of the entire human race by becoming the ancestor to Jesus Christ Himself.

Consider that for a moment.  Her loss was necessary to add her DNA to the solution for the sin problem of all humanity.  Ruth, who in many ways could have accepted her suffering on the sidelines and become a footnote in history like her sister-in-law before her, instead became the one of the few women in the entire Bible with a whole book dedicated to telling her story.  Her story of exceptional loss is what provided us with the Savior that redeemed us all.  And it all happened because she decided not to take her ball and go home when the losses started piling up, and instead put her full confidence in a God she barely even knew.

So let’s jump to the grand finale for Ruth… after what may be one of the most unique courtships in all of the recorded Bible we find Ruth and Boaz joining in marriage and sealing the lineage that would lead to King David and eventually to Jesus, where she is one of the few women actually named in His genealogy (Matthew 1).  As a matter of fact, if we take into consideration Ruth’s lineage as a Moabite she started with the deck stacked against her in the first place.  The origin of her entire race was the result of the incestuous relationship between Lot and one of his daughters after their escape from Sodom and Gomorrah.  Not exactly the typical background for a future ancestor of the Son of God, you would think.  But in a family tree that includes the prostitute Rahab, the adulterous David and Bathsheba, and now the widowed immigrant Ruth, the picture becomes even more clear that when God chose exactly how He would personally enter the world He chose people who experienced exceptional loss and lived to tale the tale.

So if you can relate to losing a spouse or significant relationship, starting life from a cursed genealogy, or simply being a member of the wrong family at the wrong time, don’t worry.  God has your future covered.  He was and still is the only person who got to choose exactly who his family members were prior to birth, and it was an intentional choice to make the world’s redemption occur through those who would have been cast aside into the damaged goods box by common thoughts.  Your entire situation may be part of a redemptive work not only for you, but for souls that won’t exist until thousands of years after you have come and gone.  Can you imagine Ruth’s surprise at realizing her tragedy that occurred in such a small, quiet little corner of the world would have such an amazing ripple effect throughout all history?  Or that she would become world-renowned for being little more than a helpless widow who put her faith in God?  Your story may differ in the outcome, but you are not suffering on the sidelines without God’s awareness or void of any purpose.  Ruth’s loss ended up being a victory for all mankind.

A Survivor’s Guide to Losing: He Gives and He Takes Away (1 Sam 30, Job 1-2, Genesis 42)

As a gamer I have unfortunately become very consistently schooled in the politics of losing.  If you are the 1% that never endures the bitter taste of defeat, kudos to you my friend and may the odds ever be in your favor.  As for me and the rest of us, it is a recurring theme that is baked into most gaming experiences.  One might consider it to be the connective tissue that binds many of us… you will enter the match with high hopes, you will battle valiantly, and eventually you will succumb to the inevitable.  Half of the combatants in every multiplayer match will depart disappointed, or in a free-for-all match only one will hoist the trophy while all others will be sent home with nothing more than some battle scars, maybe some XP, and a participant ribbon to show to mommy.  For many, the multiplayer game of choice right now is Overwatch, and the division between the “haves” and the “have not’s” is pretty clear.  You are either pretty good at Overwatch, or you are the person that makes those on your friend’s list spontaneously go “offline” when you sign on because they are afraid you will be joining their battles and bringing them down in the process.

In Overwatch you get to choose from a massive variety of characters with entirely different weapons and styles of combat, but even with all of these choices sometimes a game is just not the right fit for the player and can result in a large amount of losing, followed by extended periods of not winning, and finally culminating in a season of endless defeat.  Few things are more frustrating than having nearly endless options to experience victory and yet still be unable to ascend to the winner’s podium.  But here we are, another excellent multiplayer game that so many gamers simply can’t achieve a consistent level of success while playing.   So if losing is such a natural and expected outcome in nearly all facets of life, why is it that we find it so difficult to accept?  Whether it is your opponent’s foul-mouthed objections to the finish of a multiplayer match over your headset, getting the disappointing email that the job you had hoped for is being awarded to another candidate, or the wordless agony of losing a loved one to the ravages of an incurable disease, the truth is we all face the reality of losing in multiple arenas of life daily.

If you are like me, you have found a way to make losing into an art form.  While I am sure your track record is impressive in its own right, I can assure you that through my own foolish life choices I have destroyed more than the devil has ever had the opportunity to steal from me, if I’m being truly honest.  Fortunately, Scripture is filled with lovable losers just like me and anyone who can relate to the feeling of falling just one score away from finally tasting victory.  So if you have experienced the pain of losing, take heart, because over the next few paragraphs we will visit three separate and severe occasions of loss and reveal God’s long term plan for losing… sometimes it is to restore, other times to replace, and many times it is to protect and save.

When He Restores:  Our first member of the Survivor’s Club For Losers is a central figure to the Old Testament, King David.  But when we find him in 1 Samuel 30 he is far from assuming the throne.  One might argue this is one of the lower points in David’s life, but considering that across his years David would lose his first wife, multiple children, his best friend, his throne, and so much more it’s kind of hard not to place him in our Hall of Fame for Exceptional Losing.  David and his small militia of loyal soldiers have spent years on the run from King Saul as he has led multiple campaigns to find and kill David and all those who support his candidacy for king.  I guess since they didn’t have social media back then they took character assassination quite literally.

David has just been kicked out of his current gig as a mercenary-for-hire for the Philistines (yes, the same Philistines that he made his name killing.  But that is a story for another time).  As he and his men return to the city of Ziklag to regroup and determine what to do now that they had just lost their jobs, they find an even worse problem awaits them.  As they drew near to the city they saw smoke rising in the air, and their arrival to camp confirmed the horrible truth…everything had been burned to the ground and all of their wives and children were gone.  While the absence of bodies was minimally reassuring that at least their families were still alive, whoever did this atrocity surely had evil intentions in mind.  Have you ever had a bad day at work only to find that an even more hellacious reality was waiting for you to walk through the door?  Well, that’s where David finds himself now, with all that he ever cared about gone and his men on the brink of mutiny.  But in verse 6 the tide begins to turn as David sought and found “strength in the Lord”.  When everything is going wrong David turns to God and asks for His strategic plan to solve this dilemma.  David is guided to the perpetrators, routs them easily in battle with only 2/3 of his army with him, and all that had been lost was restored.  So we see that sometimes God permits the loss, but He has full restoration in mind.  David and his men gained a totally different perspective on what losing meant when they thought the bad news was that they lost their job, and it turned out having regained their families that the job they lost was no longer as important as what they almost lost and now had found.

When He Replaces:  If David belongs in the Hall of Fame, Job gets his own wing.  Across the first two chapters of Job we see perhaps the most tragic collection of losses a human being has endured without respite.  Verse after verse is a sword plunged into the heart of Job as he loses his wealth, his possessions, his servants, the lives of his children, and finally his health.  The fall of Job continues as his friends turn on Him and His wife encourages him to “curse God and die”.  I doubt he found that particular bit of advice helpful.  As the losses pile up it had to be impossible for Job to see a bright light at the end of any of these tunnels.  But through this we have an exceptionally quotable response from Job that really illustrates the character of this man of God. In Job 1:20-22 we find that Job’s reaction to his tremendous losses was to worship God and say, “The Lord gives and the Lord has taken away”. 

Wow.  Without a trace of the bitterness and resentment I know I would be feeling in that moment Job illustrates His full understanding of the nature of our mortal existence.  We came into this world with nothing, and we don’t get to bring a carry-on into the afterlife.  All that we have are temporary gifts from God meant to be used, given, and enjoyed.  And when these are removed, we understand that just like checking a book out at the library it all eventually returns to the owner.  We never “possessed” any of it in the first place… we were merely caretakers of the gifts and talents of what God has given us, and as illustrated in Matthew 25 there will be a reckoning in which we must give it all back.  But Job’s story doesn’t end there… no, let’s fast-forward to Job 42:10 where the conclusion of this tale of losing ends with not only a replacement of all Job had lost, but a double-portion as well.  Through his patient acceptance of this season of losing he came out the other side with twice what he had entered with, complete with another 140 years of life to enjoy with his new blessings.

When He protects and saves: Our final example is found in Genesis 42.  Just to bring us up to speed, we are knee-deep in the story of Jacob and his son Joseph, who was sold by his brothers as a slave into Egypt and was thought to be dead by his father Jacob.  Joseph has endured a host of trials and tribulations and has emerged as the new second-in-command of the entire nation of Egypt, but his family has no idea that he survived his ordeals and Jacob was misled to believe he was eaten by animals many years prior.  So here we go at verse 36, in which Jacob is in an awful predicament.  Of his twelve sons, one is believed to be dead (Joseph), another (Simeon) is currently being held as prisoner in Egypt, and the youngest (Benjamin) has been summoned by the Egyptian ruler who is the  same one who detained Simeon previously.  It is just too much for old Jacob to bear as he laments that he has already lost two sons, a third is being requested, and if he loses this one he will simply die a sad and broken man.

Against Jacob’s desires, the remaining ten brothers return to Egypt to purchase food from this Egyptian ruler who has them all quaking in their boots.  And once the dust settles it is revealed in Genesis 45:4-8 that the temperamental and unpredictable Egyptian ruler is actually their long lost brother Joseph who had been sold and Jacob presumed dead so many years ago.  All the brothers were reunited with their father Jacob as Joseph explains that this temporary loss was actually designed to send him ahead of them so he could save all of them as well as multitudes of others from the devastating famine that was afflicting the land and would have killed them all.

It can be very hard to endure a losing season or a sudden unexpected loss, but all of these examples are just the tip of the iceberg when trying to see the big picture.  At no time are any of the losses minimized… to be fair David’s home was still burned, Job’s new children do not erase the freshly dug graves of their fallen brothers and sisters, and Jacob did not regain the years of fellowship with Joseph that simply cannot be replaced.  The pain is still real, but the Lord in each circumstance was there all along guiding each tragic story to His intended outcome… restoration, replacement, or salvation.

Sometimes I struggle with why Christianity feels so much like losing… our Saviour was publicly beaten and executed, his followers were systematically hunted and killed in horrific fashion, and it seems that suffering is the rule rather than the exception for our time here on earth. But each of these examples remind me that, to paraphrase the one and only Captain Kirk, how we deal with death/losing is just as important as how we deal with life/winning.  And in the Survivor’s Guide to Losing I found:

  • David resisted the temptation to respond in his own strength and found strength and guidance in the Lord
  • Job refused to blame God and accepted that all he had was merely on loan from the Almighty, freely given and feeely returned.
  • Jacob finally found that what he thought was heartbreaking loss was actually future provision, and by temporarily losing one son all twelve and their families were saved.

If you are in a process of losing or trying to deal with a major loss, take heart.  The Lord is faithful to make all things work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.  He may choose to restore what you have lost, or perhaps replace it.  His larger plan may mean temporary loss for the salvation of others.  But it all has a purpose, and as Christ Himself proved through His ultimate sacrifice it is through losing our life that we truly find it.  The losing is necessary for the ultimate victory, and as Paul encouraged us he counts it all as loss so he can gain Christ.  That is our final victory, and the one that truly counts.

    You Found the Key: Deus Ex Machina and the Inconvenient Truth About the Rapture (1 Thess 4, Matt 24 and Matt 13)

    Any gamer worth their salt should be quite familiar with the concept of “Deus Ex Machina”, even if they are unfamiliar with the term.  The literal Latin translation is “God in the machine”, and if you ever played a video game, watched a tv show or movie, or read a comic book you have seen this play out.  It is a reference to when a previously hopeless situation is miraculously solved through a unique and typically improbable solution that just happens to present itself.  It happens every time you reach an impenetrable area in a game only to find that the exact key you need to progress is hidden in the room you are currently in.  It shows up in every tv show to provide viewers with a happy ending by having long-lost Uncle Danny show up just in time to watch the kids, or when Spock explains that he can save everyone by pushing a button that nobody had considered pushing until the show is almost over.  When an X-Men character develops a superpower on the spot that is the perfect response to their current predicament or when the romantic leads of any romance movie magically bump into each other at a random coffee-house to rekindle their relationship before the credits roll, you are witnessing deus ex machina in action.  We have come to expect tidy resolutions to most of our entertainment through an eleventh hour surprise, and we accept the result regardless of how incredibly unlikely the endgame scenario is because it sends us home happy.  I know I personally appreciate when a plot device in a game or movie is at least grounded within the rules of the universe it was inhabiting, and I am typically frustrated when the climax of the story comes of as too convenient mostly because it destroys the stakes that had been built up to that point.

    I believe in taking the advice of the Apostle Paul to avoid contentions and promote unity within the body of Christ by evading theological traps that serve only to generate conflict and division, but the roots of this particular topic are entwined deeply both in our doctrine and our culture and as I progressed in my study it became clear that there is a very relevant and critical discussion to be had here.  I ask that regardless of your pre-disposition that you approach this with an open mind to let the Scripture speak for itself.  If you do, I have faith that you will find yourself challenging some of your deepest engrained beliefs on this subject, just as I myself was.

    The word “rapture” is one of those evangelical Christian terms that found its way into the mainstream, and it’s easy to see why.  It has popped up in several games such as Bioshock and Everyone’s Gone to the Rapture, and is the subject of multiple books and movies such as the Left Behind series.  It is an exciting and dynamic concept complete with massive worldwide disappearances, driverless cars careening off the road as airplanes fall from the sky, and it is often depicted as the precursor to the Tribulation period and Armageddon.  But how Biblical is this well-known and widely accepted doctrine?  As I mentioned before, we are going to let the Word of God do the talking and interpret itself, so let’s buckle up because a whirlwind of Scripture is going to help us make sense of this.

    Rapture theory has its heart in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and through chapter 5, where Paul takes an aside in his conversation to encourage his audience who had concerns regarding the final state of those who had passed away. Starting at 4:16, He explains how the resurrection of the dead will occur.  First, Christ will descend from heaven with a shout accompanied by the voice of an archangel and the sounding of the trumpet of God.  Immediately after this, all of the dead in Christ will rise followed by all who remain alive at His second coming to meet him in the air, and from that time forward we will forever be with Him.  So far, so good.  So the question becomes not whether we leave this earth to join Christ, but WHEN.  Is this a great escape from the trials that are about to be unleashed?  One thing is clear, the return described here is not a flash of light followed by everyone vanishing.  Let’s find out what Jesus Himself says about the date of His return…

    In Matthew 24 Jesus is asked very directly by his disciples about the end of the world and the circumstances regarding His return.  And Jesus did not disappoint… starting at verse 15 he begins to describe the great tribulation period and the murderous reign of the antichrist. Note that His advice to his disciples is not for everyone to get ready to be raptured, but rather He dispenses practical advice on getting away from the danger.  Also, notice that he is not speaking to unbelievers, but to His FOLLOWERS here.  As a matter of fact, in verse 25 he states the days of the tribulation are being cut short specifically for the sake of His elect. Why would the days be cut short for our sake if we were no longer here?  This is clearly advice for us. And as for a secret Rapture?  Verse 27 reveals that he references how lightning that occurs in the east is plainly visible in the west, comparing His coming to an event that will be plainly visible to all regardless of location.

    And now for the timing… in verses 29 and 30 He clearly states that AFTER the tribulation His sign will appear in the sky and the entire world will see Him coming.  And observe how He describes this coming:  He will send His ANGELS, with the great sound of a TRUMPET, and they will gather the ELECT from the four winds.  That sounds identical to the gathering described in 1 Thessalonians 4, but this is not an escape from the tribulation but rather a description of the final day.  And how do we know that?  Keep reading… verses 36-44 continue describing His coming as similar to the days of Noah, and this is a very critical comparison that will help interpret what He says next.  Many people are aware of the phrase “one will be taken, and the other left” and use this as yet another Rapture reference, but to do that removes it from its context.  In verse 36 Christ begins comparing His second coming to the time of Noah and the great flood.  In verse 39 He explains that the flood was a surprise not to the believers (Noah and his family), but to the rest of the world.  Look at the language here… the flood came and “took” them all away.  Then He continues to explain how one will be taken and another left.  Who was taken in the flood and who was left?  It was the “wicked” who were taken and it was the righteous Noah and his family who were left.  This is not a reference to a secret Rapture event either, contrary to what I was taught growing up.

    And if we needed one more proof of Jesus’s end time doctrine, let’s move to Matthew 13.  After the very popular parable of the sower, Jesus launches into the slightly less well-known parable of the wheat and the tares (or weeds).  From verses 24-29 He spins the yarn of a field that has been sown with good seed and was subsequently infested with weeds thanks to the spreading of these seeds by an enemy.  When the servants request permission to remove these vile plants, they are given the instruction to let them both grow together so the good plants are not damaged by the uprooting and in the end they will both be harvested, first the weeds to be burned and then the wheat to be reaped.  Now you may stop me here and say what does this have to do with the rapture?  Move down to Christ’s interpretation of His own parable, starting at verse 37 and through 43.  He clearly states in verse 40 that the harvest is the end of the age, the harvesters are His angels, and that they take the WICKED first to judgement, and then the righteous inherit eternal life.  There is not a reference anywhere to an early departure plan in any of His discourses to His followers.  As a matter of fact, to fail to inform them in such a manner of this pending event would almost seem duplicitous on His part, wouldn’t it?  Why would Jesus have so many clear opportunities to inform His disciples and us about this massive event and simply ignore it?  Unless… it wasn’t true.
    Now for the simple truth.  Rapture theory has only existed since the early 20th century as a proposition by a small group that included their theory into the notes of their printed study Bible.  At this point it began to be considered a fact in many circles in spite of a lack of direct Scriptural support.  I grew up in an environment where this was established as an equivalent doctrine as Armageddon itself and it was many years before I chose to do my own research and come to an entirely different conclusion.  And now to save the best for last, the end times book itself, the book of Revelation.  With all of the dense details and incredible depth of exposition, surely there is a direct reference or at least a hint of the rapture found in one of its chapters?  Alas, a thorough read through will not support a “great escape” for the people of God, but rather support the true second coming of Jesus in all His glory for the world to see.  At its heart, the rapture requires a THIRD coming of Christ, with the second one a pseudo-return that gets by on a technicality since He only comes halfway, I guess.  But this is clearly not Biblical, as the angels clearly state upon Christ’s ascension that He will return just as we saw Him go.  No reference to a tiny return… just the real one.

    I know that some of you may already have done this research and found this truth for yourselves, but many others may have found themselves challenged by this column and what it implies.  The rapture doctrine provides a “deus ex machina” miracle that is simply not promised to us, and when saints are challenged to endure the tribulation many may lose faith because they thought there was a miraculous escape plan that did not come to pass.  I encourage each of you to do this study for yourself and come to your own conclusion.  As both Noah in the flood and the Israelites in the time of the Egyptian bondage found, God does not remove His people from the battle, but protects them THROUGH it.  The Israelites were present for the plagues, but they did not harm them or their belongings.  Noah endured the entire flood through the ark that God guided him to build.  And we will endure all that the future has for our planet thanks to His provision and protection as well.  Now, as Paul said, encourage each other with THESE words.  He WILL return, the dead in Christ WILL rise, and we WILL meet Him in the air as He returns to this planet for a second coming that will not be in secret, but will be clear to entire planet.  And at that point, and forever more, we will be with the Lord.