Pressing On

with THE WORD

A study of the Scriptures to discover who God is, what He is like, and how to partner with Him now.

Filtering by Tag: eternal destiny

Contrast of Eternal Rewards

The goal of Bible study is to think God’s thoughts after Him and to better understand the one who loves us…both of these aims have the ultimate goal of deepening our relationship with God.  Whenever our reading of the Scriptures needs some focused studying to fully understand what God is communicating (as we have been doing with Revelation 21:7), the best next step is to zoom out and add our new understanding to the surrounding context of verses.

Revelation 21:6-8
Then He said to me, “It is done!  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.  I will freely give to the thirsty from the spring of the water of life.  The one who conquers will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son.  But the cowards, faithless, detestable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars – their share will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

The focus of the paragraph turns on one simple word – but.

“But” is a critical term when studying Scripture.  It lets you know that a contrast is taking place in the text, and these contrasts are important to our understanding.

On the one hand, we have those who did freely drink from the water of life, and from within them, those who conquer.  On the other hand are those who have rejected God and lived life counter to His plan for humanity.  In contrast to the conquerors who inherit in the new Jerusalem, those who have rejected God have their share (other translations – their place, their portion, or their part) eternally separated from God in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur…which the previous context of Revelation 20:10-15 indicates is the eternal destiny of Satan and those who follow him.

This is a serious contrast of eternal consequences. 

Thinking about the original recipients of Revelation, the terms God uses – the cowards, the faithless, etc – would have been descriptive of those who were persecuting the first century believers.  While this contrast does give comfort that God will make everything right in the end, there is another application, one for the here and now:

Remember, we are called to be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world by holding firm to the word of life (Philippians 2:15-16).  After all, we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making His appeal through us.  We plead on Christ’s behalf: “Be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:20).

For those around us, eternal destiny hangs in the balance.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Rewind / Fast-Forward

We’re going to rewind human history – not quite to the beginning – but back to someone who was given a fantastic promise: 

Hebrews 11:8-10
By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed and set out for a place that he was going to receive as an inheritance.  He went out, even though he did not know where he was going.  By faith he stayed as a foreigner in the land of promise, living in tents as did Isaac and Jacob, coheirs of the same promise.  For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God

And then the author describes the mindset of Abraham and his family:

Hebrews 11:13-14, 16
These all died in faith, although they had not received the things that were promised.  But they saw them from a distance, greeted them, and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth. 

Now those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a homeland…But they now desire a better place – a heavenly one.  Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.

That desire for a homeland isn’t unique to Abraham’s family.  All Christians have felt it.  Deep down, we recognize that there is more to this life…that God has something planned, a future place for us to live.

A little later, the author of Hebrews confirms our inklings:

Hebrews 13:14
For we do not have an enduring city here
[presently on Earth]; instead, we seek the one to come.

What is this city?  What is it like?

In order to view the city Abraham was looking forward to, the city whose architect and builder is God, we must now hit fast-forward on human history.

Past the Rapture of believers, past the Tribulation, past Christ’s second coming, past Christ’s 1000 year reign, and after the Great White Throne Judgment…

God gave the apostle John a preview of our home in eternity future.  John discussed what he saw and heard in the last two chapters of the final book of the Bible, Revelation.

Today’s Christians are typically hesitant to read Revelation.  We’re hampered by our own thoughts of “It probably won’t make any sense” or “The discussion of judgments and punishments on people makes me uncomfortable” or “Only mentally unstable people and crazy preachers discuss what’s in that book”…and yet, God saw fit to include this prophecy.  His always fulfills his prophecies…even if the people he gave them to didn’t fully understand what they were hearing or if it takes a couple thousand years for the prophecy to be fulfilled.

In previous posts, we’ve seen that numerous Old Testament and New Testament writers – and even Jesus himself – discussed eternity future.  We’ve looked at a small selection of passages which confirm our longings for that time, and there are plenty more that we could have looked at.

God desires for us to see what eternity future will be like, so let’s not be afraid to look at it, even if we don’t fully grasp every detail.  We can read Revelation and walk away knowing one thing, with absolute certainty:

God wins.

He is not overtaken by the evil in our world.  His command of the universe is not diminished.  And the believers from all ages are magnificently included in His eternal plans…

Revelation 21:1-2
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  I also saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband.

Finally…the place that every believer in history has desired, it has arrived.  Everything new, everything different.  The Creator has re-created…and if He called the first creation “good”, I don’t know if we have an adequate word on this planet to describe the beauty of the new heaven and the new earth.

Pause for just a moment and think about the Holy City...prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  Guys, was there ever a time when your wife was more stunningly beautiful than the day of your wedding?  Ladies, remember how much attention to every detail and how much assistance was given, in order that you would be the most prepared, most lovely bride ever to walk down the aisle…and how much your mere reflection radiated beauty?  Combine those observations, and we get a sliver of a sample of how spectacular the Holy City will be.

And that place is our home.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Eternal questions

Sometimes being a Christian is tiring, right?  I mean, we may not admit it, but constantly striving to make the right choices, say encouraging things, loving people that we don’t want to, helping others, giving hard-earned money away to church or charity…and on and on and on…all these things are enough to wear us out.  And then throw in sickness and disease and selfishness and greed and all the other bad things we encounter…it can make us want to throw up our hands and fire off a few questions at God.

They were probably something along the lines of

Why am I persevering in the Christian life now?
Is all this trouble worth it in the long run?
What really happens – and does any of this matter – at the end of all things?

Those kinds of questions were not unique us.  Paul answered similar questions in both of his letter to the believers in Thessalonica.  Paul also addressed these topics with the believers in Corinth:

2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Therefore we do not give up.  Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day.  For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory.  So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Paul then continues his comparison of our present state with our eternal destiny:

2 Corinthians 5:1-2
For we know that if our earthly tent we live in
[our earthly bodies] is destroyed, we have a building from God, and eternal dwelling [a glorified, resurrection body] in the heavens, not made with hands.  Indeed, we groan in this tent, desiring to put on our heavenly dwelling…

Peter also wrote about the same things to believers:

2 Peter 3:10-13
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief; on that day the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, the elements will burn and be dissolved, and the earth and the works on it will be disclosed.  Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, it is clear what sort of people you should be in holy conduct and godliness as you wait for the day of God…But based on His promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

During his last night on earth, one of Jesus’ final instructions to the disciples contained a peculiar promise, but it was a promise that was to motivate the disciples during the time that Jesus would no longer be physically with them:

John 14:1-3
Don’t let your heart be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many rooms; if not, I would have told you.  I am going away to prepare a place for you.  If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am you may be also.

Mentionings like these are not isolated to the New Testament either.  As just one example, God told Isaiah:

Isaiah 65:17
For I will create a new heaven and a new earth; the past events will not be remembered or come to mind.

These are just a few examples, but they show us that God has a long term course for human history planned out…and these verses confirm what we inwardly desire – relationship and purpose with our Creator.

If the world as we know it will pass away, what kind of lives should we live now?  When we feel troubled and shaken and our bodies are falling apart, Jesus wants us to trust Him and remember that He is coming back for us, to take us to a home that He designed…with us in mind.

When we recognize this longing for eternity that God has placed in our hearts, it helps us keep our present life in perspective.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Aftermath of a miracle: the response

“Seems like the only time we ever get together anymore is weddings and funerals.”

Sound familiar?  It’s certainly true of me and my extended family.  We’re not only scattered across the entire US, but there are a few of us who live in distant countries at the moment.  It takes a big event to get everyone to coordinate schedules and finances such that we can all be face-to-face for even a couple of days.  If someone has a serious illness or accident, we will call and text to check in on each other.  A few of us that are regionally close to each other might get together for Christmas or Thanksgiving, but for most holidays, birthdays, and graduations our communication is through technology and not in-person. 

But a wedding or funeral?  It would take a lot to keep us from showing up to one of these events.   And our drive to be there in-person isn’t just for our immediate family, but when our friends experience these milestones, as well.  While some might decry this as a negative result of modern society, I don’t think it is the case.  It takes a huge moment of celebration or tragedy to get everyone’s attention and bring people together.

And that is why Jesus allowed Lazarus to die.  Many friends and family showed up for his funeral in his hometown of Bethany

John 11:18-19
Bethany was near Jerusalem (less than two miles away).  Many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother.

Something tragic had to happen in order to bring everyone out of their normal-daily routine, to ensure they were aware – and present – for the revelation of God’s authority and power that was about to take place.

Jesus had a distinct purpose in the steps He took as Lazarus’ situation would unfold.  Throughout the account, John records several statements Jesus made about His motivation.  Look at what He says:

John 11:4
When Jesus heard [that Lazarus was sick], He said, “This sickness will not end in death but is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

John 11:14
So Jesus then told them plainly, “Lazarus had died.  I’m glad for you that I wasn’t there so that you may believe.”

John 11:40-43
Jesus said to her, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”

So they removed the stone.  Then Jesus raised His eyes and said, “Father I thank You that You heard Me.  I know that You always hear Me, but because of the crowd standing here I said this, so that they may believe You sent Me.”

After He said this, He shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”


Did you notice what Jesus included in His prayer?  Because of the crowd standing here.  Would the crowd have gathered if Jesus had arrived before Lazarus died, when was still sick?  Most definitely not.   A few may have shown up out of concern, but, realistically, Jesus would have performed a healing in front of the disciples, the sisters, and an on-looker or two.

Instead, Mary and Martha had to experience their worst nightmare – helplessly watching their brother waste away and die.  Even worse, Lazarus painfully experienced his body failing him…all the way through death.  By allowing these personal tragedies to run their course, a crowd of people became eye-witnesses to the greatest miracle up to that moment in human history.  At Jesus’ command, a man that they all knew was without-a-doubt 100% dead was suddenly restored and standing among them.  As eye-witnesses, how did they respond?

John 11:45
Therefore, many of the Jews who came to Mary and saw what He did believed in Him.

A short while later, Jesus returned to Bethany; and look at what happened:

John 12:9-10
Then a large crowd of the Jews learned He was there.  They came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, the one He had raised from the dead… he was the reason many of the Jews were…believing in Jesus.


The “Tragedy of Lazarus” had become the “Glory of God” that Jesus predicted…but Lazarus still had to suffer before getting there.  If Jesus can use a death to draw others to Him, I’m certain that any disease can also be used for God’s Glory.  This includes my younger brother’s Multiple Sclerosis, my debilitating migraines, your terrifying cancer, your uncontrollable anxiety, and any painful unexplainable failing of our bodies. 

I cannot promise that God will heal any of us.  It is certainly acceptable to ask: He may say yes; He may say no.  What is clear from Lazarus’ story is that Jesus places a higher priority on God’s Glory and drawing others to Him than we do on our current status.

But if we’re talking about changing the eternal destiny of those around us – ones who otherwise would not be eye-witnesses to God’s Glory and Power, if not for our personal tragedies – we can trust God with our sufferings, our illnesses, and our frail bodies.

Keep Pressing,
Ken