Interacting with “The End”, Part 3: Snapshots of Revelation

A Review of Craig Groeschel’s “the End”: Part 3


In the past month or so I have reviewed two of Craig Groeschel’s in his 3 part series titled “The End.” In the spirit of completeness I’d like to take a look at his final message “Snapshots of Revelation.” As the title indicates, in this message Groeschel takes 40 minutes and gives his audience a jet tour of the book of Revelation. This is actually a very difficult thing to do, and personally I would not attempt it unless I was doing a series on the entire book and wanted to begin with a brief overview. Revelation is the type of book that requires a lot of introduction to give people an idea of the type of literature being dealt with. Having said that, Groeschel does a good job of summarizing it and getting at the heart of the message, which I agree with him on. Still, there are some differences in the details and so lets take a look at his message and see where we might differ.

After a brief introduction, Groeschel divides his message into 5 sections and themes:

1) Jesus is the Alpha and Omega (Chapters 1-3): Jesus is coming soon

2) Jesus is the Lamb of God (Chapters 4-5): He is worthy to open the scroll

3) Jesus is the Righteous Judge (Chapters 6-18): Jesus righteously judges the earth

4) Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Chapter 19): Jesus returns with his church

5) Jesus is the Bridegroom and we are the Bride (Chapter 21): Jesus takes us, the church, to the heavenly city

There are many ways to divide up the book of Revelation, and this broad outline does a good job of hitting some of the main themes of the book. So, lets move through the outline.

First, Groeschel makes some introductory comments about Revelation. He talks about how it is “really creepy and scary” and so people avoid it. Actually, however, he then correctly asserts that this book will “build your faith…and if you’re a follower of Jesus you should get excited about what God is showing you through the book of Revelation.” The problem is that people “don’t know how to read it.” This is exactly right! Revelation does have some images and symbols we simply are not used to. It is a type of literature called “apocalyptic” that was common in that day, but is foreign to what we are familiar with today. Groeschel rightly states that when it comes down to it, Revelation is about Jesus Christ, and as we read it we should always be asking the question, “what does this say about Jesus?” Groeschel does this in each of his sections, and thus gets the main theme of each right.

1) Jesus is the Alpha and Omega (Chapters 1-3): Jesus is coming soon

Here Groeschel points us to Revelation 1:7:

But then he goes on to say that “this is not the first return of Jesus when he comes back like a thief…the first time he comes for his church, this time he comes with his church…” My question is, why is this not the same coming as described in 2 Thessalonians 4? Let’s compare the two texts:

So, if we look at both of these texts, it would seem they are speaking of the same event. It is the Lord Jesus who is coming in both. 2 Thessalonians describes a cry of command, the voice of an archangel, the trumpet of God. Also, each speak of the Lord coming on the clouds. In 1 Thessalonians believers are caught up in the clouds to meet him, while in Revelation 1 he is coming on the clouds. Should we, therefore, take these as two separate comings, or as discussed in a previous post, see these events as describing the same coming, with 1 Thessalonians focusing on the perspective of the believer and Revelation describing the perspective from heaven. It seems that at that final trumpet, we will meet the Lord in the clouds and return with him to judge the nations. Every eye will see him, every ear will hear and all who have rebelled against him will mourn. It is much more likely that this is the case, and no reason from either of these two texts to take them as separate events.

But what about the language of a thief? 1 Thessalonians goes on to say:

Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers,[b] you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children[c] of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.

So what does Paul intend to say when he uses the metaphor of a thief? The text tells us: “When people are saying ‘there is peace and security’, then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman.” It is the suddenness of Christ’s coming that make it like a thief, not its secretness. It is sudden destruction that will come upon the ungodly like a their. It is as the labor pains that suddenly come upon a pregnant woman (Is 66:7; Jer 6:24; 22:23; 50:43; Mic 4:9). But it will not surprise believers, for they are prepared because they have trusted in Christ. It will not be a time of destruction for them, but a time of blessing. Paul makes this very point in 1 Thessalonians 1:5-9

This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from[b] the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because ourtestimony to you was believed.

Therefore, it is unlikely that 1Thessalonians 4 and Revelation 1 represent two separate comings of Christ, but rather two perspectives on his final coming.

2) Jesus is the Lamb of God (Chapters 4-5): He is worthy to open the scroll

Pastor Craig does a good job summarizing section two, and I agree with him for the most part. Jesus Christ is the slain lamb of God, who alone is worthy to open the scroll which symbolizes God’s purposes for humanity as revealed in the remainder of the Revelation. We press on.

3) Jesus is the Righteous Judge (Chapters 6-18): Jesus righteously judges the earth

Again, Groeschel’s main point here I can agree with. Jesus always judges rightly, and on the day of judgment no one will be able to say, “that’s not fair.” However, it is with Groeschel’s “bonus thoughts” that we depart ways. Basically, he interprets chapter 6-18 as entirely future, prophesying things that have not yet happened even in our time, things we are perhaps seeing right now. His thoughts are in bold, and my responses follow:

Temple Rebuilt (Rev. 11.1-2) – Groeschel takes the mention of the temple in Revelation 11:1-2 to prove that the temple will one day be rebuilt. The passage says:

Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told, “Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there, but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months. 

I won’t spend a lot of time defending a particular interpretation of each of these issues, but rather I want to simply show that there are other interpretations which fit better what I believe these passages to mean; however, the question that should be asked, according to Pastor Craig’s own advice when it comes to the symbolic nature of Revelation, is could not Revelation mention a temple symbolically that did not actually exist literally? Of course, and that seems to be the case here. The question then that should be asked is, ‘what does this symbol mean?’ Just as in chapter 1, we are told that the seven golden lampstands represent the seven churches, so here we must decide what the temple represents. My answer, without a lengthy defense, is that the part of the temple that is measured is the true church, those who have trusted in Christ. The measuring indicates that they are protected from God’s wrath to be poured out in judgment. The ‘court of the Gentiles’ or outer section which is not measured, represents they heathen who have not trusted Christ. No such protection will be provided for them. They will be trampled.

Anti-Christ (Rev. 13 and 14-16)

Mark of the Beast

Anti-Christ killed and raised to life (13.3-4)

The anti-Christ is actually not named in Revelation, rather it is the beast from the sea. Again, I would simply ask what this beast would represent to John’s readers? And what would his mark represent? And what would it meant to John’s readers that he suffered what seemed to be a mortal wound (13:3-4)? All of these images would be utterly meaningless to John’s readers if this person were yet future, and if his mark was a microchip. A much more likely reading is that the beast represents none other than the pagan city of Rome and its emperor, who commanded worship as a god and who was responsible for the persecution John’s readers were enduring. By extension any nation and world leader who would set itself up against God could l be called the beast of Revelation. John himself said that he was “partner” with his readers in “the tribulation.” Surely the suffering talked about throughout the book refers to this same tribulation John and his readers were enduring.

Two Witnesses (Rev. 11)

Killed and raised to life

Shut up the heavens

issue any plague they want

Fire from mouth (“really cool trick”); “don’t mess with two witnesses”

Groeschel then discusses the two witnesses. He takes them literally, and all their powers literally as well. Again, we should ask similar questions. Why should all of these things be taken literally in a very symbolic book? In fact, later Pastor Craig will talk about the sword coming from the mouth of God as a symbolic representation of the word of God. I believe the symbolism here represents the same as that of the measured temple. The two witnesses, i.e. God’s true church, will be protected during the time of God’s wrath.

 Anti Christ raised up to assassinate world leaders; one world government (Rev 17.12-13; Dan. 7.24)

The Anti Christ is defeated at the battle of Armageddon (Rev. 16.16-19)

Again, I would just advice a careful reading of the text to see if there is anything about a future one world government in Revelation 17. The beast is indeed defeated at the final battle, as are all nations and peoples who have opposed Christ. These are a few of the issues in Groeschel’s interpretation of Revelation that don’t seem to fit the context or overall point of the book.

4) Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Chapter 19): Jesus returns with his church

“He is not a candidate who we elect in and out of office. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords and when you read Revelation and see who Jesus is, it will build your faith.” Amen, Pastor Groeschel!

5) Jesus is the Bridegroom and we are the Bride (Chapter 21): Jesus takes us, the church, to the heavenly city

Pastor Groeschel ends very well. I say again, most of what he says I agree with and we can partner in the cause of the gospel because we hold these gospel truths. Christ is coming soon and this is a cause of joy and hope for all believers. These other issues we can debate and discuss, but praise God we need and should not divide over them.

Still, I believe that as Christians we must strive each day to be faithful to all of God’s word, including the unfamiliar texts of Revelation. These issues are not unimportant and they may well affect how we read Scripture and understand the gospel of the kingdom.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Should Al Mohler and Others Step Down?

I ran across this article at the SBC Issues blog yesterday. I’m a Calvinist, I study at Southern and I like Al Mohler, however, I received my MDiv at Southwestern and many of my spiritual mentors have not been Calvinists. I believe both Calvinists and non-Calvinists can work together within the SBC without having to divide.

However, it is articles like this one that make such an endeavor less and less probable. In this open (yet anonymous) letter to Al Mohler, Frank Page, Danny Akin, Tom Ascol, Mark Dever, David Dockery and the Committee on Calvinism, the author attempts to get to the heart of the theological controversy in the SBC regarding Calvinism. Unfortunately, instead of being an honest assessment of the issues and practical and charitable suggestions for moving forward, it simply lays the blame on a few Calvinist leaders in the SBC for “infiltrating” the entities of the SBC in a “ploy” to move the convention to a reformed theological position. I’d like to look at the article in its entirety, so we can see how not to move the discussion forward. It begins,

On August 15, 2012, Baptist Press released an article that contained the following statement:

Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee President Frank Page has announced the members of an advisory team who will help him craft a strategic plan to bring together various groups within the convention who hold different opinions on the issue of Calvinism.

The 16-member group will conduct its first meeting Aug. 29-30 in Nashville, Tenn.

“My goal is to develop a strategy whereby people of various theological persuasions can purposely work together in missions and evangelism,” Page told Baptist Press. The list was announced Tuesday (Aug. 15).”

So far so good. This committee was set up for the express purpose of charitable dialogue within the SBC concerning how Calvinists and non-Calvinists can work together for the cause of the gospel. This is a worthwhile goal and a discussion that needs to be had. The article continues,

A lot has been written on the state of Calvinism in the SBC. However, while there are many issues theologically with respect to Calvinism, the growing concern now rests not with the theology itself but with the growing infiltration of Calvinist believing individuals in the entities of the SBC. While the theological differences are still an issue, of major concern is now the theological persuasion of the entities because make no mistake about it, where the entities go, the convention will follow.

Here is where the confusion sets in. Ironically, the author attempts to make the case that the issue is not theological. It most certainly is theological. The reason the article was written is because this person does not like the idea of influential Calvinist leaders in the SBC. Notice the language he uses. It is an “infiltration of Calvinists” into the entities of the SBC. The worry is that as more Calvinists “infiltrate” the SBC, the convention will move more Calvinistic in its theological persuasion. He continues,

I believe this argument itself is proof that that the theological pulse of the entities is crucial to the future of the convention. When Dr. Mohler was made president of SBTS, everyone knew that he was a 5 point Calvinist. Dr. Mohler’s theological position was not a major point of concern at that time because the point of contention was theological and not positional and the convention could and still can deal with that.

I’m not sure what the argument is here to be honest. Mohler was made president of Southern while a recognized 5-point Calvinist, yet his theology was not an issue at that time because “the point of contention was theological and not positional.” I think he is saying that because Mohler was not as influential as he is today, his Calvinism would not likely spread, so it was okay…? So, you can be a Calvinist in the SBC, just don’t have too much influence. We press on…

Things have, however, changed significantly in the past 10 years or so and all of this work that has taken place quietly behind the scenes to place key individuals in strategic places in the convention entities has been extremely successful. This transformation began in a couple of the seminaries, primarily and has been extended to NAMB, Lifeway and even to key convention committee appointees. State colleges and newspapers have followed follow this disturbing trend as well. Trustee appointments are being filled with individuals who have connections to and affinities with Dr. Mohler and his brand of theology. This I believe this is the real elephant in the room that no one has been willing to talk about, at least to this point.

So the issue is definitely influence. Now that certain SBC entities have Calvinistic leadership, there is a problem. Unfortunately, the tone of the article suggests less than ethical behavior on the part of Mohler and a few other leading Calvinists, which is a weighty charge. The idea seems to be that they have snuck around with the hope of infiltrating the entities and thus leading the SBC to officially embrace Calvinism. No specifics, no documentation, mere accusation at this point. The author continues,

Here is the real issue I believe must be addressed and resolved if there is to be any hope for any resolution to the cooperation issue that the SBC currently is facing. Dr. Mohler and others serve in very influential positions and are being paid by SBC entities. While it is accurate to say that they have done outstanding jobs in their respective positions of responsibility, they have also been busy working quietly to direct other areas of the SBC toward a reformed theological position that is decidedly different from their current positions. This has been done quietly and without any outside collaboration and without any word of warning on these individual’s part and this is in and of itself fundamentally wrong. These individuals cannot be allowed to continue this ploy if anyone expects the SBC to move forward in a cooperative manner.

Again, I would like to know the specifics of what he is charging here. Indeed, Al Mohler has done an outstanding job at Southern, and continues to do so. If what he and others have been “quietly” doing is “fundamentally wrong,” it should be brought to light and discussed specifically. Broad generalizations are rarely helpful.

As people are made aware of this situation, it is my prayer that the people in the SBC will rise up and rectify this situation if the leadership of the convention is not willing to do so.

My hope is that people will recognize that this is not the best way to move the conversation forward. Indeed, it is a hinderance to unity we are striving for.

Understand, the divisiveness is not in those who are now standing up to object to what has taken place but the divisiveness in the SBC rests squarely on the shoulders of those who have taken it upon themselves to Reform the SBC from the inside out with no regard to the current theological disposition of the entities, the SBC and those who support the Cooperative Program with their giving.

The author makes this type of statement more than once, and it appears to me that he recognizes the divisiveness of his statements. Others will recognize it as well, and thus the need to repeat over and again that he’s not the divisive one, but rather those whom he is attacking. Although, the only thing we know at this point is that they are influential leaders in the SBC who have a theological stance he disagrees with.

I was asked the following question by a member of this advisory committee, “What kind of compromise would you consider a step in the right direction?” Sadly, I am of the opinion there is only one answer to that question. The divisiveness in the SBC is not theological; the division has been caused by a very small group of individuals who have privately and quietly taken it upon themselves to infiltrate the entities with the expressed purpose of guiding the SBC toward a Reformed position. The simple solution is that some of these key individuals need to go. Southern and Southeastern need a different direction. Lifeway needs new leadership. Dr. Mohler needs to be the first to step down. States need to take a good look at their own colleges and newspapers and the individuals who are responsible for them.

So here is his goal. The influential Calvinist leaders that this author disagrees with need to step down. Southern needs to quit being Calvinist, and Lifeway needs to lose its Calvinist leadership as well. States need to filter their colleges and newspapers away from reformed theology. It’s hard to believe what is being suggested here.

Remember, the division with regards to Calvinism has escalated not simply because there are more Calvinists, but because the influence of Calvinism in the entities of the SBC that is now propagating itself, producing more Calvinists. The entities are now leading the SBC down a Calvinist pathway with no regard to the vast majority in the SBC who do not favor this move.

So the issue is not that there are more Calvinists, but that the entities in the SBC are producing more Calvinists. Hmmm. Here’s my theory, as people read articles like this, and then look carefully at the Scriptures to test its claims, they are seeing the truth of reformed theology. Christians are able to think, and are not blindly following leadership. Let’s give the people of the SBC more credit.

Calvinism or Reformed Theology dominating the SBC is the clear cut goal of men like Tom Ascol of the Founder’s Ministry and Al Mohler and it is crystal clear that they are well on their way to achieving their goal without any consensus on the part of non-calvinists in the SBC.

I think the goal of these men, being a student at Southern, is for students and people to read the Scriptures carefully and closely. To allow the word of God to speak and to bow the knee to what it says. This is what is producing Calvinists, not some secret ploy of shady men.

While many are aware of the Calvinist issues theologically, very few seem to be aware of the level of indoctrination that has taken place in the entities of the SBC nor are they aware of the danger this indoctrination poses. The SBC is being reformed from the inside out with very little attention being focused on those changes. Those responsible for these self-produced changes need to go.

Is this really indoctrination? So because Southern teaches from a reformed theological perspective, that is now indoctrination? What about Southwestern? Are they indoctrinating their students when they make arguments against it? What about articles like this? Are they a form of indoctrination? If you mean men at entities like Southern teach in a way that is consistent with what they hold to be faithful to biblical revelation, then yes. But having attended both Southwestern and Southern, both are balanced and charitable toward other positions, and indoctrination should not be used to describe either.

Make no mistake about it, the change that has been brought on the SBC by the efforts of a few Calvinists is what is causing the divisiveness in the convention today.

Again, they’re the problem. Articles like this calling for the resignation of influential SBC leaders simply because they hold to historic Baptist confessions have nothing to do with it.

Once these individuals have stepped aside, the divisiveness could begin to subside and hope for cooperation could begin once again between Calvinists and non-calvinists in the SBC. One thing is clear; if these individuals are allowed to maintain the status quo, the divisiveness will only get worse as non-calvinists are made aware of what has actually taken place and what will no doubt continue to transpire until the goal of a Reformed SBC is indeed a reality.

Translation: once Calvinist leaders in the SBC are removed, then the convention can go unchallenged with an anti-reformed bias. This is truly an astonishing suggestion. The SBC will be less divisive when we remove all the Calvinists from leadership.

One final thought. If Reformed Theology were the answer to the problems that exist in the SBC, then The Presbyterian Church with its Reformed Theology foundation would be leading the world but it is not. If Reformed Theology were the answer Dr. Mohler and company insist it is, then Europe would be a bastion of Christianity in the world for Reformed Theology was birthed there. Churches in Europe are largely monuments to what was a vibrant Christian presence but sadly they are empty today. I was told it was not Calvinism that killed the churches in Europe but rather a disobedient people that refused to listen to the teaching and preaching of right doctrine. This is indeed an interesting comment since Calvinism itself maintains that no one can listen and respond favorably unless God FIRST gives them the ability to do so. A consistent Calvinist would simply have to conclude that the reason Christianity in Europe is dying is because that is God’s sovereign choice.

Would the Presbyterian Church really be leading the world if reformed theology were true? Is that how God has worked in the past? Right theology equals majority? I wonder what Athanasius would say…

There seems to be some misunderstanding on the part of the author here. From a 5-point Calvinist perspective, people are responsible for their actions, for their sins. Europe is the the state it is in because people turned their backs on solid doctrine, they turned their backs on God. Much the same way America is doing now. I wonder if the author would be consistent and blame the godless state of our nation on its Christian roots? Why isn’t America a bastion of Christianity right now, if it had Christian beginnings? Obviously, the issue is not how it has begun, but the decisions of its people to turn their backs on God. The fact that God is sovereignly guiding human history for his eternal purposes and glory in now way limits the responsibility of the free decisions of men with evil intentions. God has decreed all things in such as way so as to not do violence to the will of man. If you disagree, prove it from Scripture.

The SBC does not need this kind of theology. If Reformed Theology is correct and God and God alone determines who is and is not saved and the elect will be saved because that is His sovereign plan and work, then a non-calvinist SBC will not hamper God’s sovereign work of salvation. Since most SBC Calvinists were saved as non-calvinists, that should be obvious even to the most unintellectual Calvinist.

“God and God alone determines who is and is not saved and the elect will be saved because that is His sovereign plan and work…” Exactly! Good summary statement of John 6. All that they father gives to Christ will come to him, and the one who comes to him he will never cast out, but will raise him up on the last day. No one can come to the Son unless the Father draws him. So, yes. It is God, not man, who saves, and of all the elect that the Father gives to the Son, the Son loses no one. A non-Calvinist SBC will not hamper God’s work. A non-existent SBC could not hamper God’s work. The Devil himself will not cause God to lose one of his elect. This is the truth of God’s sovereignty as so clearly taught in his word. If it is not God alone who saves, then why do you pray for someone’s salvation. If it is not in God’s hands, then what can he do? Perhaps these are the questions this author should ask himself. The bottom line is that we do not know God’s secret decrees, and we do not know the elect, so we preach the gospel to all people at all times everyone, knowing that through the preaching of the word God almighty is drawing a people to himself.

It is time for this hijacking of the entities of the SBC to stop. It is time to address the ramifications of the reckless regard for the irresponsible actions of a few to Reform the SBC by taking over the entities of the SBC and leading them to a Reformed center with the final intention of leading the SBC to a Reformed position.

We’ll let the readers decide who is reckless and irresponsible at this point.

Al Mohler and other have made their beds. The question now is, who will suffer the consequences of their actions? One thing is clear; someone will.

It appears the consequences of the actions of Al Mohler and others is people who love doctrine and God’s word. It is people who desire to know God to the fullness of his revelation, despite our shortcomings in comprehending the secret things of God. That has been my experience at Southern, and my hope is that God will raise up more men like Al Mohler and Tom Ascol who are not ashamed of their God and his self-revelation, and who proclaim the message of the gospel daily and train others to do the same.

Let’s have this discussion. But let’s do it biblically. Let’s not make unwarranted and general accusations, but come together charitably yet holding fast to our convictions. Let men like Al Mohler be an example to us in that regard.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Interacting with “the End” Part 2: Are There Two Resurrections/Judgments?

A Review of Craig Groeschel’s “The End”, Part 2


A few weeks ago I wrote a review of Craig Groeschel’s first installment in a series called “the End” about the end times. While I agree with the essentials of his message, that Christ is returning and this should be a cause for hope and rejoicing for believers, it is with the secondary (but still important) interpretive matters that I take issue. Primarily his view that 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 refers to a secret rapture. Such is simply not present in the text, and in fact the text seems to suggest otherwise. Also we discussed briefly his view that there will be two resurrections and two judgments. He addresses these issues more fully in his second message.

In his second message Groeschel speaks of two judgements. The first is the “Judgment Seat of Christ (Bema),” and it is the judgment of believers only. The second is Revelations “Great White Throne Judgment,” at which, according to pastor Craig, believers will not appear.

Rather than review his message in full, much with which I agree, I would like to examine his claims regarding the resurrection and final judgment(s). He basically discusses 3 passages in this regard: Luke 14:14, 2 Corinthians 5:10 and Revelation 20:12. Therefore, we’ll discuss each passage and then decide if we ought to conclude from them two separate resurrections and two separate judgments.

The Judgment of the Righteous

First, Luke 14:13-14 states,

But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

Because it says that that believers will be repaid at the resurrection of the just, and last week Groeschel argued for a resurrection of believers at the rapture at Christ’s secret coming, then naturally the “repaying” spoken of here will take place at the rapture, according to Groeschel. While this is certainly a possible reading of the text, it is unlikely for two reasons. First, the only place in Scripture where two separate resurrections are mentioned is Revelation 20, neither of which, as we saw in our last post, can possibly take place at the rapture. Further, we discovered that 1 Thessalonians 4 most likely refers, not to a preliminary secret coming, but to Christ’s final coming. Therefore, there is no need to posit an earlier resurrection of only Christians. Second, if one compares this passage to other passages in the gospels which speak of resurrection, it is most likely that Luke is simply highlighting one facet of a resurrection which includes both the righteous and unrighteous (see Acts 24:15). For instance,

Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.(John 5:28–30 ESV)

Here we have a description of the resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous, when all in their tombs will here his voice, some to life some to judgment.

But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. (1Cor 15:23-24).

Here we find a description of resurrection and final judgment, which both seem to take place when Christ returns. He will resurrect the righteous unto life, and then destroy all who oppose him. While the resurrection of the unjust is not mentioned, it is implied in their judgment.

And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:39-40).
Here the resurrection of the righteous is mentioned, and it takes place at the “last day.” In the New Testament, as discussed in a previous post, the last days refers to the time between Christ’s first and second coming. The last day, therefore, refers to that time when Christ returns and makes all things new, i.e. the day of the Lord, the last trumpet. In order for the timetable that Groeschel argues for to work, one would have to argue that the “last day” here encompasses both a resurrection at the rapture, a resurrection when Christ returns after Armageddon, and a third resurrection after the millennium. This seems unlikely.

He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sew good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”…“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matt. 13:29-30; 47-50)

Finally, these two parables seem to indicate that in the Kingdom of Heaven, both the unrighteous and the righteous will exist side by side until the final resurrection/judgment, where they will each receive Christ’s righteous judgment.

The Bema Seat

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.(2 Corinthians 5:10 ESV)

The next argument we should look at is the one Groeschel basis on the Greek word “Bema” (βημα). Groeschel states,

“Most scholars believe that the judgment seat of Christ is a judgment for Christians only and at the judgment seat of Christ you’re not judges for salvation or damnation…but this a judgment for rewarding you for all the works you’ve done on heaven” (sic). – he means on earth.

He goes one to argue the basis for this satement:

“The Greek word for judgment seat is the word Bema…it was not the seat where the judge sat to issue a verdict, guilty or innocent, but instead it was the throne where the judge would sit to issue rewards…”

This is surprisingly a common argument among those who would want to distinguish between the judgment seat of Christ and the great white throne judgment of Revelation. The problem is, there is no evidence for this in the New Testament. In fact, the evidence points to the opposite conclusion. What do I mean? The Greek word Bema is used 12 times in the New Testament. Once it is used as a measuring unit, and is thus irrelevant to our discussion (Acts 7:5). The other instances are worth looking at individually:

Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat (Bema), his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.” So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat (Bema) at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha.(Matthew 27:19; John 19:13 ESV)

In these two passages, the word Bemai is used of the seat Pilate sat on during Jesus’ trial. It is where he ordered Jesus’ flogging as well as his crucifixion. It is obvious that here it does not refer only to a place of reward, but a place where punishment, indeed the death penalty, is dealt.


On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne (Bema), and delivered an oration to them.(Acts 12:21 ESV)

Here it is apparent that the word is used as the throne of Herod, where he addresses his subject. There is no indication that it is a place of only dealing out rewards.

Also in Acts,

¶ But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal (Bema), And he drove them from the tribunal (Bema). And they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal (Bema). But Gallio paid no attention to any of this. ¶ After he stayed among them not more than eight or ten days, he went down to Caesarea. And the next day he took his seat on the tribunal (Bema) and ordered Paul to be brought. But Paul said, “I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal (Bema), where I ought to be tried. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you yourself know very well. So when they came together here, I made no delay, but on the next day took my seat on the tribunal (Bema) and ordered the man to be brought.(Acts 18:12, 16–17; 25:6, 10, 17 ESV)

In these passages in Acts, the word Bema refers to the tribunal of Gallio and of Caesar, where in both cases Paul is brought by an angry mob to receive judgment, which could be a judgment of either life or death.

And finally,

¶ Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat (Bema) of God; for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” ¶ So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.(Romans 14:10–12 ESV)

Here in context Paul is focusing on the judgment of believers, yet there is no mention of rewards. The point is that we ought not to pass judgment on one another, for it is God who ultimately knows our hearts and will reveal the secret things within. While rewards could be a part of this account, there is nothing to explicitly suggest so, and as we have seen, the word Bema itself should not lead us to that conclusion.

Therefore, out of the 11 relevant uses of the word Bema in the New Testament, none of them explicitly demonstrate that it was a place for only receiving rewards, and 9 of them actually say the opposite, it was a place where judgment was rendered, often judgment of the severest sort, as was the case with Jesus before Pilate. In fact, the judgment Pilate rendered unto Jesus is the same judgment of condemnation, in which he endured the full wrath of God, that unbelievers will receive at the final judgment. Thus, the argument that the Bema seat judgment is one of rewards based on the Greek would should be set aside.

Finally, a closer examination of 2 Corinthians 5:10-11 itself should give us pause before making any hard and fast statements about it referring to simply a judgment of rewards. Again, it states:

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. ¶ Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience.(2 Corinthians 5:10–11 ESV)

Verse 11 helps us here, for if this were only a judgment of rewards, why speak of the “fear/terror of the Lord” being the basis for our good deeds? No where in Scripture are we told to fear the Lord because we might receive fewer crowns, rather, we are told to fear not the one who can destroy the body, but the one who can destroy both body and soul in Hell (Matthew 10:28). The idea of the fear of the Lord is most often understood in the context of his righteous wrath (see Hebrews 12:28-29). In other words, fear the Lord for he will one day judge all people, either unto life or eternal death. This seems to be the sense here.


While Groeschel discusses the Great White Throne Judgment of Revelation, our discussion will end here. Two things should be apparent. First, while Scripture does distinguish the just and the unjust at the final judgment, it does not indicate that there will be two, let alone 3 or 4, separate judgments. There will be one judgment of both the just and the unjust, those who have believed in Christ and those who have rejected him. This will all take place at the final trumpet, the resurrection, and Christ’s second and final coming. Second, we should not be quick to base a theological argument on the meaning of a Greek word. Languages are fluid, and each word must be examined in the context the author gives it. In this case, the Greek word Bema more often refers to a judgment seat of punishment/pardon, rather than reward. This is the Bema of Christ, the Great White Throne and the final judgment.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Interacting With “The End”


The End –

My brother recently pointed me to a 3-part series that LifeChurch.TV is undertaking on the end times. Let me say first that I appreciate much of what Craig Groeschel in this message. He is absolutely correct that the return of Christ should be a topic of extreme encouragement and joy for believers. On this point pastor Craig and I agree, and as brothers in Christ we both hold in common this essential and unifying truth.

The primary text for the message is 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. It reads:

“¶ But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (1Thessalonians 4:13–18 ESV)

Groeschel divides the passage into three parts: 1) The Return of Christ; 2) The Rapture; 3) The Reunion

1. The return of Christ: According to Groeschel, verses 13-16 refer to the second coming. This is no doubt true. Christ will return with a “shout of command”, the “voice of the archangel” and the “trumpet of God.” This is a loud and highly visible event. Christ will return and the dead will rise. Groeschel also rightly connects this to John 14.3, where Christ promises that he is going to prepare a place and will return for his people.

With regard to the resurrection of the dead, Groeschel indicates his view that there will be two resurrections and two judgments. The two resurrections are those of believers at the rapture, and unbelievers later. The two judgments are the Bema seat of Christ (Christians) and the great white throne judgment (unbelievers).

With regard to resurrections, he appeals to Revelation 20, where you have the first resurrection and the second death. “Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection, the second death has no power over them.” The problem with this reference, however, is that it cannot refer to the resurrection at a pre-trib rapture. If Revelation 20 is talking about a future millennium, the resurrection mentioned is a resurrection after the battle of Armageddon just before the thousand years. More likely, the first resurrection in Revelation 20 actually refers to those who have died in Christ and are seated with him in heaven, having received the “crown of life.” Whatever the case, the first resurrection of Revelation 20 cannot be the pre-trib resurrection of believers at the rapture.

Groeschel will discuss his view of the two resurrections in more detail in his second message, so we will address it then. Suffice it to say that the New Testament seems very clear that there is only one judgment and one resurrection, which both happen at the second coming of Christ:

“¶ “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.” (Matthew 25:31–33 ESV)

Even in 2 Thessalonians in a context very close to the passage under discussion, only one coming and judgment is indicated. It states,

“¶ This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering—since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.”(2 Thessalonians 1:5–10 ESV)

It is when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his angels that he will BOTH judge the ungodly and grant relief to believers. Only one coming and judgment is indicated. Groeschel’s second point has to do with the rapture.

2. The Rapture. Groeschel defines the rapture as that moment when “living Christians are taken away.” He says that the one of the primary reasons he believes in a pre-tribulational rapture has do to the Greek word “harpazo” (caught up), which he contends primarily carries the idea of being rescued. Harpazo is used 14 times in the New Testament, and in the vast majority of cases it simply means to snatch away (often in a violet sense; see Matt 11:12; 12:29; 13:19; John 6:15; 10:12, 28–29; Acts 8:39; 23:10; 2 Cor 12:2, 4; 1 Th 4:17; Jude 1:23; Rev 12:5). The closest use to the present passage is that of 2 Corinthians 12:2, 4, where Paul says he was “caught up into the third heaven/paradise.” The idea of rescue is not present here. In two instances (Jude 23 and Revelation 12:5) where the idea of rescue is present, it is not the word itself that carries that connotation, only the context surrounding the word. In 1 Thess. 4, however, there is no mention of a tribulation to be rescued from, rather it is a joyous occasion when Christ returns for his people. Thus there is no need to force the word to mean rescue. It simply means what it always means, to take up or snatch away. The when and the why are not found in rescue from tribulation, but rather in the final and global (not secret) coming of Christ.

Another passage Groeschel uses to support his view of the rapture is Matthew 24; however, it seems apparent that this passage is referring to Christ’s final coming at the last judgment. Verses 23-45 say:

“Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it.
For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather. ¶ “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. ¶ “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

¶ “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Matthew 24:23–45 ESV)

Thus, this is a time of judgment as in the days of Noah. It is the time when the son of Man’s coming will be as lightning across the sky AFTER the tribulation of those days. Also, it is also more likely that those who are “taken away” are parallel to those “swept away” in judgment during the days of Noah. It was actually Noah and his family who were left, and the ungodly being judged who were “taken away.” In any case, most commentators rightly hold that Matthew 24 cannot be about a pre-trib rapture, but rather describes Jesus’ final coming. In the same way, 1 Thess 4 is not about a secret rapture of the church (after all it involves a loud cry, the voice of the archangel and the final trumpet!), but about the second coming of Christ where all will be judged, some to everlasting punishment and some to everlasting life.

One more thing should be said. Those who are “caught up” are also said to “meet the Lord” in the air. This idea is “meeting” is not an uncommon term. It was used of Jesus’ parable of the 10 virgins who went out to meet the bridegroom (Matt. 25.6; see also Acts 28:15). When they met him, did they go away with him, or return with him to the city? The word often refers to the processional that would meet a someone important on his/her way into the city, and then to return with him in celebration. This seems to be the most likely sense here. God’s people are caught up to meet him, and then return in victory with all those who have died in Christ.

3. the Reunion. Groeschel’s final point demonstrates the essential commonality we hold as believers. Christ will return. He will make all wrongs right. He will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and we will be reunited with him forever. These are certainly words we as Christians can and should encourage one another with.

In the meantime, however, let us seek diligently to understand the details of Christ’s return, as John promises in his Revelation, “blessed is the one who reads and those who hear the word of this prophecy, and those who keep all the things which are written in them, for the time is near” (Rev. 1:3).

Christ will return, and upon his return he will judge the living and the dead. All will be raised, some to everlasting life and some to everlasting torment. Yet the one who endures to the end will receive the crown of life and be saved. Let us endure. Maranatha!

Enhanced by Zemanta