Category Archives: Systematic Theology

The New Heavens and New Earth

When we all get to Heaven,
What a day of rejoicing that will be!
When we all see Jesus,
We’ll sing and shout the victory!

As “When We All Get to Heaven” (chorus above; verses below) brings out, Heaven marks the joyous end of the Christian’s journey.

What is Heaven? The book which I’ve been using as a guide in this series of posts on systematic theology, Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994), defines it thus: “Heaven is the place where God most fully makes known His presence to bless” (page 1159). In this post, the final one in the series, I’ll share a little of what Grudem says about Heaven.

Heaven is an actual place, not just a state of mind as some claim. This is clear from Jesus’ promise to his disciples in John 14:2-3, “I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” We don’t know where it is and we can’t see it with the natural senses but it exists and, as John observes in Revelation 21:1–“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away–will somehow be made new at or after the final judgment described in my last post, The Final Judgment and Eternal Punishment. (Both quotations and all other Biblical quotations are from the ESV.)

Revelation 21:1 notes that the earth as well as Heaven will be renewed at that time. Grudem discusses whether it will be simply renewed or whether it will be destroyed and replaced by a new earth created by God. Despite Revelation 21:1 and other passages’ suggesting that it will be destroyed, Grudem thinks that it will just be renewed, arguing that “it is difficult to think that God would entirely annihilate his original creation, thereby seeming to give the devil the last word and scrapping the creation that was originally ‘very good’ (Genesis 1:31)” (Grudem, Systematic Theology, page 1161).

Not only will Heaven and the earth be renewed, but also our bodies will be renewed. Thus the entire creation shall be restored to what God originally intended it to be. Our being invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9) indicates that our life in the new creation will include such features of our present life as eating and drinking. Although admitting that we don’t know how much of our present life it will include, Grudem speculates, “Perhaps people will work at the whole range of investigation and development of the creation by technological, creative, and inventive means, thus exhibiting the full extent of their excellent creation in the image of God” (Grudem, Systematic Theology, page 1162).

Most importantly God will be present with us. “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4)

When We All Get to Heaven

Sing the wondrous love of Jesus,
Sing His mercy and His grace.
In the mansions bright and blessèd
He’ll prepare for us a place.

While we walk the pilgrim pathway,
Clouds will overspread the sky;
But when traveling days are over,
Not a shadow, not a sigh.

Let us then be true and faithful,
Trusting, serving every day;
Just one glimpse of Him in glory
Will the toils of life repay.

Onward to the prize before us!
Soon His beauty we’ll behold;
Soon the pearly gates will open;
We shall tread the streets of gold.

(Eliza E. Hewitt)

Advertisements

The Final Judgment and Eternal Punishment

11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:11-16, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV)

The Final Judgment

The above passage describes the judgment before the white throne judgment which will take place between the millennium and the eternal state. The book that I’ve been using as a guide in my posts on systematic theology, Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994), takes the position that all final judgment will take place there. He presents evidence that both unbelievers and believers will be judged in it, unbelievers to receive punishment and believers to receive rewards; that angels will be judged in it; and that we will help in the work of judgment. Among the numerous passages that he quotes are the above passage to show that unbelievers will be judged; 2 Corinthians 2:10 and 1 Corinthians 3:12-15, quoted below, to show that believers will be judged; and 1 Corinthians 6:2-3, quoted below, to show that angels will be judged and that we will help in the work of judgment.

10 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)

12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:12-15)

2 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! (1 Corinthians 6:2-3)

However pretribulationists (see The Time of the Great Tribulation) hold that instead of being judged at the white throne judgment believers will be judged between their being raptured before the tribulation and their returning after it to rule on earth during the millennium. They claim that 2 Corinthians 5:10, quoted above, refers to this judgment and that it will be a judgment for rewards as described in 1 Corinthians 3:12-1, quoted above.

Some also hold that the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46) describes yet another judgment, one between the tribulation and the millennium that will judge people on how they treated believers (or the Jewish people, depending on who “my brothers” refers to) during the tribulation and will decide who will enter the millennium. However the final state, not the millennium, seems to be in view in the parable. Thus Jesus may have put the judgment seat of Christ (judgment of believers) and the white throne judgment (judgment of unbelievers) in one picture without distinguishing between them. (This suggestion by James Oliver Buswell is referred to by Stanley M. Horton in his Our Destiny, Springfield, Missouri: Gospel Publishing House, 1996, page 225.)

The final judgment is not intended for God to determine the state of our lives, which He will know already, but to demonstrate to us (and the angels) His justice. After pointing out this, Grudem notes these positive moral influences of it on us:

– it “satisfies our inward sense of a need for justice in the world”
– it “enables us to forgive others”
– it “provides a motive for righteous living”
– it “provides a motive for evangelism”
(Grudem, Systematic Theology, pages 1147-48)

Eternal Punishment

We call the lake of fire referred to in Revelation 20:11-15, quoted above, “hell.” Grudem defines it as “a place of eternal conscious punishment for the wicked” (Grudem, Systematic Theology, page 1149. Several passages in the Bible refer to it. Here are a few more:

41 …”Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels”… 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (Matthew 25:41,46; the Son of Man is speaking to and then about the unrighteous in the parable of the sheep and the goats)

43 …the unquenchable fire… 48 where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched (Mark 9:43,49; Jesus is describing hell)

22 …The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.” (Luke 16:22-24; this is from the parable of the rich man and Lazarus)

9 And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.” (Revelation 14:9-11)

Various individuals throughout church history have denied that there is a hell, many of them advocating “annihilationism,” the teaching that after the wicked have suffered the wrath of God against their sin He will annihilate them so that they no longer exist. Grudem presents and responds to four arguments advanced in favour of annihilationism. He concludes, “Though annihilationism can be countered by theological arguments, it is ultimately the clarity and forcefulness of the passages themselves [passages such as the ones just quoted] that convince us that annihilationism is incorrect and that Scripture does indeed teach the eternal conscious punishment of the wicked” (Grudem, Systematic Theology, page 1152).

The existence of hell is a hard doctrine. Even God doesn’t like it, His declaring, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezekiel 33:11). Thus even though we know that it is necessary to satisfy God’s justice, we should sorrow over it and “should also long that even those people who most severely persecute the church should come to faith in Christ and thus escape eternal condemnation” (Grudem, Systematic Theology, page 1153).

The Time of the Tribulation

15 So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains…. 21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be….
29 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. 30 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. 31 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.
(Matthew 24:15,21,29-31 ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV)

The passage seems to say that the great tribulation will precede Christ’s second coming, and the book that I’ve been using as a guide in my posts on systematic theology, Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994), takes that view, which is called posttribulationism. However in “The Return of Christ: When and How – Part 2,” I observed that my church believes that Christ will come and take away Christians before the tribulation, a view that is called pretribulationism. Despite this, I’m going to base my consideration of the two views, which are the two most widely held views on the time of the great tribulation, on Grudem’s presentation (pages 1131-35).

Arguments for Pretribulationism

1. Since the great tribulation is a time of the outpouring of God’s wrath on the earth, it would not be appropriate for Christians to be on the earth at that time. Grudem responds to this argument by observing that much of the suffering is due to the increase in wickedness, persecution of the church, and opposition from Satan.

2. Revelation 3:10, “I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth,” seems to indicate that the church will be taken out of the world before the great tribulation. Grudem responds to this argument by observing that (1) the promise is made to a particular church, the one in Philadelphia, and need not apply to the whole church at some future time; (2) the “hour of trial” may refer to a time of great suffering and persecution that would come on the Roman Empire rather than to the great tribulation; and (3) “will keep you” could mean that Christians will be kept faithful or protected rather than that they will be taken out of the world.

Other Bible passages which some pretribulationists claim indicate that the church will not go through the great tribulation are:
– “[S]tay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place” (Luke 21:36)
– “Jesus … delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:10)
– “God has not destined us for wrath” (1 Thessalonians 5:9)

3. If Christ returns after the great tribulation and defeats all his enemies, the question arises where the unbelievers will come from to populate the millennial kingdom. This question doesn’t arise for pretribulationists because they believe that large numbers of Jews will become Christians during the tribulation. Grudem responds to this argument by observing that Christ’s defeating all his enemies after the great tribulation doesn’t mean that he will annihilate all of them and thus that many of them may simply surrender without putting their faith in him and thus enter the millennium as unbelievers.

4. If Christ comes before the tribulation, he could come at any time, which is consistent with the many Bible passages which indicate that he could come at any time. Grudem responds to this argument by claiming that pretribulationism is not the only view that is consistent with those passages. See The Return of Christ: When and How – Part 2.

Grudem also observes that, although it isn’t an argument in favour of their view, pretribulationists view the tribulation to apply to Jewish converts in the tribulation rather than to the church. They think that the church will be taken up to heaven to be with Christ before the tribulation and Israel will constitute the people of God on the earth during the tribulation. Grudem responds by claiming that the New Testament doesn’t support such a distinction between Israel and the church, referring to his consideration of the relationship between them on pages 859-63 of his Systematic Theology. However dispensationalists argue otherwise; for example, J. Dwight Pentecost lists 24 distinctions between Israel and the church identified by Lewis Sperry Chafer in his Systematic Theology (Things To Come, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1958, pages 201-02).

An argument made by pretribulationists not noted by Grudem is that an interval is needed between Christ’s taking away the church before the tribulation and his coming to the earth with it after the tribulation. Henry Clarence Thissen observes:

It [the Scriptures] reveals that there are two things at least that must take place between these two events: the judgment of the believers and the marriage supper of the Lamb…. In addition to these events in heaven, there are also developments on earth in preparation for the kingdom. God will be preparing a company of redeemed to enter into the millennial kingdom. This will include believing Jew and Gentile alike” (Lectures in Systematic Theology, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1979, page 375).

Arguments for Posttribulationism

1. The New Testament nowhere clearly says that the church will be taken out of the world before the tribulation. Moreover the only passage that explicitly speaks of the church’s being caught up, “[T]he 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” (i Thessalonians 4:16-17) seems to describe something that is open and public.

“Moreover … public” implies that pretribulationists generally view the taking away of the church to be a secret event. If that were correct, then the statement would certainly make a good point, as does the first statement in the argument. However it doesn’t seem to be. For example, D. Edmond Hiebert says:

Some seem to think that the world will be unaware of the rapture of the church, that the saints will silently slip away and the world will hardly notice their absence. Others think that the rapture, described as a truly “noisy affair,” will be known to all, that the voice of the archangel and the sound of the trumpet will be heard by all. An intermediate position seems to be nearer the truth. The world will realize that something extraordinary and suoernatural has taken place, but it does not necessarily follow that they will understand the significance of the sound and will realize exactly what has taken place.” (The Thessalonian Epistles, Chicago: Moody Press, 1971, page 199).

2. The tribulation is clearly linked with the Lord’s return in Matthew 24:29-31 (quoted above).

3. The idea of two separate returns of Christ, once for his church before the tribulation and seven years later with his church to bring judgment, is nowhere explicitly taught anywhere in the New Testament.

Clearly there are good arguments for both pretribulationism and posttribulationism. Thus it would be wise to follow Stanley M. Horton’s advice:

[L]et us not allow differences of opinions with respect to the time of the Rapture separate believers…. A “crown of righteousness” is not limited to those who have right ideas about the Rapture, but is promised “to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8). The commendation that we all want to hear is “well done, good and faithful servant!” So let us all be about the Lord’s business and, at the same time, keep that longing for, that expectation of Christ’s coming, which might take place at any moment.” (Our Destiny, Springfield, Missouri: Gospel Publishing House, 1996, pages 133-34)

The Millennium

1 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. 2 And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 3 and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.
4 Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.
(Revelation 20:1-6, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV)

We call the period of one thousand years described above in which Satan is bound and confined to the pit and certain people come to life and reign with Christ the millennium, millennium being the Latin word for “thousand years.” There are three major views on the time and nature of the millennium: amillennialism, postmillennialism, and premillennialism. I’ll describe each of them in this post, and in my next post I’ll consider the two main types of premillennialism, which differ on whether Christ will return before or after the great tribulation.

Amillennialism

According to this view, Revelation 20:1-6 describes the present church age and not some future period of time. It holds that the binding of Satan in verses 1-3 refers to his influence being reduced during Jesus’ ministry and through the church age so that the gospel can be preached to the whole world, that those reigning with Christ in verses 4-6 are Christians who have died and gone to heaven, and that Christ’s and their reign in the millennium is a heavenly rather than an earthly reign. It holds that “thousand years” is a figure of speech for a long period of time and that the church age will last until God’s purposes for it are fulfilled and Christ returns. And it holds that when Christ returns both believers and unbelievers will be resurrected, the bodies of believers being reunited with their spirits in heaven and unbelievers rising to face the final judgment and eternal condemnation.

Two arguments given for the view are that only one passage in the Bible (Revelation 20:1-6) appears to teach a future earthly millennial rule of Christ and that the Bible speaks of only one resurrection rather than of the separate resurrections of believers and unbelievers required by premillennialism (see below). However the Bible only needs to say something once for it to be true and “the first resurrection” of verse 6 implies that there will also be a second resurrection. See pages 1114-22 of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994), which my family and I are currently reading in our after-breakfast Bible reading, for a full consideration of these two and other arguments for amillennialism (he gives six) and of responses to them.

Postmillennialism

According to this view, Christ will return after the millennium. It holds that Christian influence on society will continue to increase so that gradually a millennial age of peace and righteousness will occur on earth. And it holds that this millennial age will last for a long period of time, not necessarily a literal one thousand years, and finally Christ will return to earth, believers and unbelievers will be resurrected, the final judgment will occur, and we will enter into the final state.

Two arguments given for the view are that the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20 suggests that, since Jesus has all authority in heaven and earth and promises to be with the Church in following the commission, it will result in the conversion of the world and that the parables of the mustard seed and leaven in Matthew 13:31-33 indicate that the kingdom of heaven will eventually fill the whole world with its influence. However the Great Commission doesn’t specify that Jesus will use his authority to convert the world and the parables of the mustard seed and leaven don’t specify to what extent the kingdom will grow. See pages 1122-24 of Grudem’s Systematic Theology for a full consideration of the two arguments (and another one) for postmillennialism and of responses to them.

Grudem also observes that several New Testament passages seem to explicitly deny the postmillennial view, most conclusively Matthew 24, in which Jesus talks about his returning just after a period of great tribulation rather than after a millennium of peace and righteousness. See pages 1124-27 of Systematic Theology for Grudem’s explanation of how Matthew 24 and other passages seem to deny the postmillennial view.

Premillennialism

According to this view, Christ will return before the millennium. It holds that the present church age will continue until a time of great tribulation occurs, followed by the return of Christ to establish a millennial kingdom. It holds that when Christ returns Satan will be bound and cast into the pit, believers who have died will be raised from the dead, and they and believers who are alive when he returns will reign with him. And it holds that at the end of the millennium Satan will be loosed and lead a rebellion against Christ but will be defeated and the final judgment will take place, as described in Revelation 20:7-10.

Reading Revelation 20:1-6 as a literal account of events leads naturally to seeing the millennium as a future reign on earth by Christ rather than to the church age. Moreover several Old Testament passages indicate a future period of time greater than the present age but inferior to the eternal state and there are New Testament passages besides Revelation 20 which suggest a future millennium. Grudem cites Isaiah 65:20; Isaiah 11:6-11; Psalms 72:8-14; Zechariah 14:5-17; and Revelation 2:26-27. See pages 1127-31 of his Systematic Theology for a consideration of those passages and for a demonstration of how Revelation 20:1-6 is best understood as referring to a future millennial reign by Christ.

These considerations combine to make a case in favor of premillennialism…. And although we may not have much clarity on all the details of the nature of the millennium, we can be reasonably certain that there will be a future earthly reign of Christ that will be markedly different from this present age. (Grudem, Systematic Theology, page 1131)

The Return of Christ: When and How – Part 2

There are many Bible passages that predict the sudden and unexpected return of Christ, but there are also several passages that refer to events which will happen before He returns. As a result some Christians conclude that Christ could return at any time and others conclude that He cannot return for a while because those events must occur first. Guided by”Part 7: The Doctrine of the Future” of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994), I’ll cite some of each of the two kinds of passages and present some solutions which have been proposed to reconcile them. All passages are quoted from the ESV.

Some Passages Predicting the Sudden and Unexpected Return of Christ

– “Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming…. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Matthew 24:42,44)
– “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Matthew 25:13)
– “Therefore stay awake–for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning–lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.” (Mark 13:35-37)
– “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Luke 12:40)
– “For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” (1 Thessalonians 5:2; the context shows that here “the day of the Lord” refers to Christ’s second coming.)
– “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord…. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand…. [B]ehold, the Judge is standing at the door.” (James 5:7-9)
– “The end of all things is at hand.” (1 Peter 4:7)
– “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief.” (2 Peter 3:10)
– “[T]he time is near.” (Revelation 1:3)
– “And behold, I am coming soon.” (Revelation 22:7; see also verses 12 and 20.)

Some Events Which Will Happen Before Christ Returns

1. The preaching of the Gospel to all nations. “And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations.” (Mark 13:10; also Matthew 24:14)
2. The great tribulation. “For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be. And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days.” (Mark 13:19-20; also Matthew 24:21-22)
3. False prophets working miracles. “For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect.” (Mark 13:22; also Matthew 24:24)
4. Fearful signs in the heavens. “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” (Mark 13:24-25; also Matthew 24:29 and Luke 21:25-26)
5. The revelation of the antichrist. “Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ … that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-4)
6. The salvation of Israel. “Lest you be wise in your own sight, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved.” (Romans 11:25-26)

From the Bible passages that predict the sudden and unexpected return of Christ, some Christians conclude that Christ could return at any time. From the passages that refer to events which will happen before He returns, other Christians conclude that He cannot return for a while because those events must occur first. Several solutions have been proposed for resolving the apparent disagreement between the two sets of passages.

Some Possible Solutions

One possible solution is to say that Christ cannot come at any time. Louis Berkhof takes this position, saying, “According to Scripture several important events must occur before the return of the Lord, and therefore it cannot be called imminent” (Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1939, page 696). However this view seems to nullify the force of the Bible passages quoted above which predict the sudden and unexpected return of Christ.

Another possible solution is to say that all the events which must occur before Christ returns have taken place and so Christ could return at any time. Proponents of this position generally claim that the events took place in some sense in the first century. However opponents of it argue that the descriptions of the events seem to point to much larger events than those which occurred in the first century.

And another possible solution is to say that it is unlikely but possible that the events which must occur before Christ returns have taken place and so we cannot be certain at any point in history whether or not all of them have taken place. This is the solution favoured by Grudem, his concluding:

Except for the spectacular signs in the heavens, it is unlikely but possible that these signs have already been fulfilled. Moreover, the only sign that seems certainly not to have occurred, the darkening of the sun and moon and the falling of the stars, could occur within the space of a few minutes, and therefore it seems appropriate to say that Christ could now return at any hour of the day or night. It is therefore unlikely but certainly possible that Christ could return at any time.” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994, page 1104; see pages 1101-05 for his argument on behalf of this solution.)

Yet another possible solution is to say that there are two distinct returns of Christ, a secret coming in which he takes Christians out of the world and, after seven years of tribulation, a public coming in which he comes to reign over the earth. The secret coming could occur at any time, but the public coming won’t take place until after the tribulation and other events which must happen before his return. This is the position taken by the denomination to which I belong, its Statement of Fundamental and Essential Truths stating:

The Rapture, according to the Scriptures, takes place before what is known as the Great Tribulation. Thus, the saints, who are raptured at Christ’s coming, do not go through the Great Tribulation.
The second coming of Christ includes the rapture of the saints, which is the blessed hope, followed by the visible return of Christ with His saints to reign on earth for one thousand years.” (General Constitution and By-Laws, The Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland Labrador, 1998, pages 8-9)

I’ll consider this view in a forthcoming post on the time of the Great Tribulation.

The Return of Christ: When and How – Part 1

Although open theists hold that God doesn’t know all of the future, it’s being impossible for Him to know the part of it to be brought about by our exercising the free will that He gave us, they believe that He has planned and thus knows part of the future. Moreover they believe that He has revealed in the Bible some of what He has planned.

In this and my next few posts I’m going to consider what the Bible tells us about the future, guided by”Part 7: The Doctrine of the Future” of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994), thus completing the series of posts on systematic theology which appeared here from August 24, 2013, to September 2, 2014. The break from then to now occurred because I wrote the series in conjunction with my family’s reading from Systematic Theology in our after-breakfast reading and we didn’t read from it in the five months that a Brazilian high school student was staying with us.

Before beginning the study, I’ll repeat something that I said both when I launched Open Theism and when I began reporting at it on our family’s reading of Systematic Theology:

Comments from followers of and visitors to Open Theism are welcome. However it is intended to introduce open theism to my family and friends. Thus it is not intended for advanced discussion of open theism or for arguments between supporters and opponents of open theism, other sites being available for both of those activities. Thus I will approve the publication of only those comments that are made in a non-technical and friendly manner.

We call the study of what God has planned for the future eschatology or “the last things.” There are many disagreements over what the Bible says about the future. In both our family reading and in my posts here I’ll emphasize the position taken by our church, which is basically the same as the viewpoint favoured by Grudem except for the time of Christ’s return.

Grudem begins Chapter 54, “The Return of Jesus: When and How,” of Systematic Theology, by making affirmations about five aspects of Christ’s second coming on which all evangelicals agree and then considers one matter on which they don’t agree, whether Christ could return at any time. I’ll present in this post the five aspects on which there is agreement and consider in my next post the matter on which they disagree.

1. Christ’s return will be sudden, personal, visible, and bodily.
This is demonstrated by such Bible passages as the following:
– “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Matthew 24:44; Jesus was addressing his disciples.)
– “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come again in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11; two “men in white robes” or angels were addressing the apostles.)
– “He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him.” (Revelation 1:7)
The above passages and all other Bible passages quoted in this post are from the ESV.

2. We should long for Christ’s return.
We should have the same desire for Christ’s return as John expressed at the end of Revelation. In response to Jesus’ telling him, “Surely I am coming soon,” he exclaims, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20) Other Bible passages expressing this desire are 1 Corinthians 16:22; Philippians 3:20; and Titus 2:12-13.
Grudem considers whether Christians actually do long for Christ’s return and whether they should undertake long-term projects. He concludes that Christians vary in their longing for His return in accordance with their spiritual condition at the time and with how much they see the world as being “in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). And he asserts that they should commit themselves to long-term activities, observing that even if they don’t get far in those activities before Jesus’ return he will say to them, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over muc. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21).

3. We don’t know when Christ will return.
This is indicated by such Bible passages as Matthew 24:44, quoted above, and the following:
– “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Matthew 25:13; Jesus was addressing his disciples.)
– “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come.” (Mark 13:32-33; Jesus was addressing Peter, James, John, and Andrew.)
– “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Luke 12:40; Jesus was addressing his disciples.)
Consequently anyone who claims to know the date when Christ will return should be rejected as wrong.

4. All evangelical Christians agree that the final result of Christ’s return will be the judgment of unbelievers and the final reward of believers. I’ll consider these after considering the disagreements referred to in #5 below.

5. However they differ over specific details leading up to and immediately following Christ’s return. I’ll consider their disagreement over the question of whether Christ could return at any time in my next post and their disagreements over the relationship of Christ’s return to the millenium and to the great tribulation in the two posts following my next post.

Worship

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:18-20, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV).

Wayne Grudem defines worship as “the act of glorifying God in his presence with our voices and hearts” (Systematic Theology, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994, page 1003). Last week my family and I read and talked about worship in our after-breakfast Bible reading, guided by Chapter 51, “Worship,” of Grudem’s Systematic Theology, Here I’ll share some of what he says there about the results of genuine worship and about how to enter into genuine worship.

Results of Genuine Worship

Grudem identifies and discusses these results of genuine worship:
1. We delight in God.
2. God delights in us.
3. We draw near to God.
4. God nears near to us.
5. God ministers to us.
6. The Lord’s enemies flee.
7. Unbelievers know they are in God’s presence.

How To Enter into Genuine Worship

Grudem suggests a number of things that we should do to enter into genuine worship, including:
– Pray in preparation for worship. In line with this the church which I attend schedules a time of group prayer prior to each of its Sunday services.
– Make right any broken interpersonal relationships. Grudem refers to several Bible passages, including Matthew 5:24, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
– Strive for personal holiness of life. Grudem refers to several Bible passages, including the writer of Hebrews’ telling believers to strive for “the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (12:14).
– Choose a setting which is free from distractions. Grudem refers to several Bible passages, including the account of Jesus’ cleansing the temple in Matthew 21:12-13.
– Include a mix of songs that can be identified with and sung by the various groups in the congregation.
– Allow enough time for prayer as well as for praise and Bible teaching.

As we usually do, my family and I discussed the questions for personal application provided by Grudem at end of the chapter. This time all four of us picked the same question, one about worship in our church. We agreed that our church allots a suitable length of time for worship and that the song service is the part of that time which we find most meaningful. We sympathized with Grudem’s criticism in a footnote of a worship leader’s talking to the congregation between songs, which sometimes distracts attention from the Lord to him. Leonora and I observed that we missed the personal testimonies which were a regular part of services in the small churches in which we grew up. How do you feel about worship in your church?