Saturday, April 30, 2011

Eschatology - living on the edge of time!

On my last post, I mentioned that the study of eschatology had led me into the study of our Jewish roots.  So, just for fun, I think I will elaborate a bit on how that happened and what I learned.

I had been a Christian for a few years when the Left Behind series came out.  Having never studied the end times prior to that, I simply took them as a fictionalized account of the way things were going to be.  It didn't occur to me to question their theology right away, until a pastor encouraged me to do so (without giving me his own viewpoint).

As I started digging,  I began to see that things did not seem to line up unless I did some "scriptural gymnastics."  I kept studying.  There are SO MANY verses in scripture regarding the end times (and almost as many viewpoints!), but I will try to be as brief as possible.

In Daniel chapter 9, the seventy weeks, or "sevens" (which is actually 70 seven-year periods) are foretold for God's people, to put an end to sin and usher in everlasting righteousness. Sixty-nine of them needed to pass until the time of Messiah (which they did), but then Messiah would be cut off and the city destroyed (which they were).  The seventieth week is yet to come - put off so that God can open up salvation to the whole world.  However, the seventieth week is portrayed in a variety of ways by the many different end-times viewpoints that exist today.

The Pre-Trib viewpoint of the Left Behind books has the church raptured away before the seventieth "week" begins.  It also believes that the entire seventieth week is The Day of the Lord, which includes the persecution of the saints by the Antichrist.  The viewpoint states that many will come to faith during this time, in order to fulfill Revelation 12:17, when the dragon (antichrist) makes war with those who follow Jesus Christ.

Here was my first problem.  Scripture says that during this time of great tribulation, many will fall away (2 Thes 2:3) and the love of most will grow cold (Matt 24:12).  I don't see anywhere in scripture that many will come to faith AFTER all the Christians are raptured away.  Quite the opposite.  It seems to me like the Lord is preparing His bride during this time, refining her and making her ready (Daniel 12:10).

Another problem that came up for me was this.  If the whole seven years is the Day of the Lord, then what about these references? 

Joel 2:31 - The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD.

Matthew 24:29-30 - "Immediately after the distress of those days 'the sun will be darkened,  and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.'  At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory"

Acts 2:20 - The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD.

These references show the sign of the darkening of the sun and moon happening just before the Day of the Lord begins and ushers in His return.  But in Revelation, it doesn't happen until after the sixth seal.

Revelation 6:12 - I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood.

So what are these seals in Revelation?  They are the seals on a scroll.  Only the Lamb is worthy to open these seven seals on the scroll, and one by one as they are opened, the earth experiences wars, rumors of wars, famine, tribulation - everything that is outlined in Matthew 24.  After the sixth seal is opened, suddenly there are many in heaven from every tribe, tongue, and nation.  Scripture tells us that these are they that came out of the great tribulation.  (Rev 7:14)/  Again, this mirrors Matthew 24, where the elect are gathered from the four corners of the earth.  There is a great silence in heaven:  the wrath of God is about to be poured out on the earth.
Believers are told that we are not destined for wrath - see 1 Thess 1:10, 1 Thess 5:9.  But whose wrath?  God's!  God's wrath and satan's persecution of believers are two different things, but both are a part of Daniel's seventieth week.   Persecution of believers has gone on for millenia.  Why would we suddenly not be subject to that anymore?  Have you read Foxe's Book of Martyrs?  Are you familiar with Voice of the Martyrs?

The scroll represents the Day of the Lord - His second return to earth - and the wrath of God, to be poured out on a wicked and unrepentant earth.  As the seals are opened before the opening of the scroll, the earth is being prepared for His final return, as outlined in Matthew 24 and Revelation 6 (among other places).

So yes, I believe there will be a "rapture" (a word not found in scripture), or a gathering of the believers from the earth, before God's wrath is poured out.  But it won't be in secret.  And it won't happen before the seals are opened - with wars, famine, and persecution by the antichrist.  It will be ushering in the Great and Awesome Day of the Lord.  And we can know with certainty that the time is near!  Watch for my next post.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Why study Jewish roots?

Yeshua (Jesus) was Jewish, born to Jewish parents in a Jewish homeland, to fulfill the Jewish scriptures.  He fulfilled the covenant of the Jewish law (Torah) and made a new covenant with the Jews.  The apostles were Jewish, and the entire early church was comprised of Jewish people.  Thousands of them. 

Hmmm, I see a pattern here.  (Technically, "Jewish" refers to descendents of Judah and not the other 11 tribes, but it has come to refer to anyone who is descended from any of the tribes of Jacob, aka Israel).

Yeshua did not come to create a new faith - he came to complete the faith that was begun centuries ago with the Jewish people.  It's not even partially Jewish - it's altogether Jewish!   It is interesting to note that the covenant was only made with the Jews.  The gentiles were, and still are, without a covenant of their own (Eph 2).  But praise be to God who has opened the way of salvation to the whole world through the blood of His son, Yeshua  the Messiah.  We gentiles are called "wild branches" in Romans 11.  In verses 18 and 21 we are told to not be arrogant toward the branches... do not be conceited, but fear!

Unfortunately, history records a different story.  As the gospel spread to the gentiles, the Jewish people were pushed out, claiming that the gentile church was the new Israel, and that God was finished with the Jews.  None of the early church creeds even mention Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob.  Many pillars of the church throughout history had terrible things to say about the Jews - perhaps someday I will list some of them.  The observance of the sabbath and biblical feasts were made illegal by Constantine, and Jews underwent persecution (which continued on through the centuries).  The creeds and theologies of most denominations today reflect this early Roman influence.

But hallelujah!  God is prompting more and more believers to look into these things.  When I first started, I simply followed a prompting of the spirit.  I didn't even know there was a "Jewish Roots" movement.  I had been studying eschatology (end times theology) for a number of years, and the desire to look into our Jewish roots was the natural result.  I keep meeting others who desire to learn more as well, and we've started a study in our home to share what we are discovering.  It's very exciting!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Counting of the Omer

Today is the third day of counting the omer.  What is an omer?  It is a sheaf, or measure, of grain; in this case, sheaves of barley from the first harvest of the year, which is harvested and offered at the temple on the day of Firstfruits (which is the day Yeshua rose from the dead).

The Counting of the Omer is a count down to Shavuot, the time of giving of the Torah and the time of the giving of the Holy Spirit. As such, it is a spiritual journey of preparation. It is a journey which is begun with Passover, the symbol of our Salvation in Yeshua, and completed at Pentecost, the symbol of our completion through the Spirit. The distance of days between the two events should be a time of spiritual reflection, growth, purification and preparation.

The Master's resurrection makes the counting of the Omer a season of special significance and joy. For his disciples, it is a time to remember the resurrected Yeshua. All of his post-resurrection appearances fell within the days of the Omer count.

Monday, April 25, 2011

More on Unleavened Bread

Resurrection Sunday (aka Easter) has come and gone, and today is the last day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  Unleavened Bread is the feast celebrated for seven days following Passover.  Yeshua (Jesus) fulfilled Passover with His sacrificial death as the Lamb of God, and He fulfilled the Feast of Firstfruits with His resurrection on the first day of the week (see Leviticus 23 for more information). 

Since leaven represents sin in scripture, we are reminded that Yeshua, the Bread of Life, lived His life perfectly, without sin, and therefore fulfilled THIS feast as well.  The number seven in scripture represents completeness (ie:  the seven days of creation).  It can be said that the seven days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread represents the rest of our lives... becoming sanctified and more like Yeshua every day as we root out the sin in our own lives.

Sanctification doesn't happen all at once - it is a lifelong process.  I tried to give up leaven for the week, which isn't easy when you are traveling (and staying with a friend who happens to be one of the best bread bakers I have ever known).  I stumbled several times, just as I do throughout life.  But praise God that He is faithful and forgives us when we repent and turn back to Him!

The counting of the omer began yesterday, on the Feast of Firstfruits.  We now look forward 50 days to the next biblical feast:  Shavuot (or Pentecost).   Keep tuning in for more information on this "Counting of the Omer" and its significance in the lives of believers.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Firstfruits, Firstfruits, Firstfruits!

Happy Firstfruits!
In the book of Ruth, Naomi and Ruth arrive back in Israel at this time of the barley harvest.  The story of Ruth and Boaz becomes a beautiful picture of the future redemption of humankind through the Messiah, when Boaz becomes her kinsman redeemer. 

Ruth, the gentile from Moab, attaches herself to Israel:  “Wherever you go I will go, where you lodge, I will lodge.  And your people shall be my people, and your God my God.”

Does anyone else find it tragic that this is not the Feast we celebrate today?  God’s word teaches us so beautifully!  If we would just look into these things which are written, we wouldn’t need plastic eggs for teaching aids.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Was the Messiah crucified on a Friday?

Here is a question that really challenged my traditional way of thinking.  I came across this scripture:  Matthew 12:40 - "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."  These are the words of Jesus. 

But Friday late in the day to Sunday morning doesn't come close to this.  I was perplexed.  One explanation I read was that the Hebrews believed that even a part of a day could be construed as a day and a night.  But that just didn't make any sense to me. 

Each of the four gospel accounts holds a clue to this puzzle.

Scripture says that the disciples wanted to remove the body of Jesus from the cross prior to the Sabbath.  The weekly Sabbath begins at sundown on Friday, so hence a Friday crucifixion seems to make sense, right?  The gospel of John helps to shed some light on this issue.  John 19:31 speaks of this being a high, or special Sabbath.  Verse 42 brings more clarification:  it was the Preparation Day.  The first day of Unleavened Bread (the day following the Passover) was a special Sabbath according to Leviticus 23:7.

But was it also a Friday?  Bear with me as we let scripture interpret scripture.  The key is in the women who brought spices to the tomb early on the first day of the week according to Luke 24:1.  

Where and when did they get these spices?  Luke 23:56 tells us that they prepared spices and THEN rested on the Sabbath.  Mark 16:1 tells us that they bought spices AFTER the Sabbath.  They would never have purchases spices ON a Sabbath day.  The answer is that there were two Sabbaths!  The high Sabbath of Unleavened Bread, a day in between, and the regular weekly Sabbath.  This causes all the scriptures to fit together beautifully!

This means that Jesus was crucified on a Wednesday, and was removed from the cross before the high Sabbath began at sundown.  Following the high Sabbath (the first day of Unleavened Bread, which was on Thursday), the women purchased and prepared their spices on Friday, before sundown.  Then they rested on the regular weekly Sabbath - Saturday - and went to the tomb Sunday morning.  But of course, Jesus had already risen... which I believe happened as the sun set after the weekly Sabbath, when the first day of the week was beginning. 

This gives Him three days and three nights in the heart of the earth, just as He said in Matthew 12:40.  And it matches the time that Jonah spent in the belly of the fish according to Jonah 1:17

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Feast of Firstfruits

I never even heard of the Feast of Firstfruits until just a couple years ago.  But bear with me, and hopefully you will see what an absolute treasure it is, and how foundational to our faith.

Firstfruits falls during the 8-day celebration of Passover/Unleavened Bread.  According to Leviticus 23:15, it falls on the day after the regular Sabbath during the festival.  So this Feast always falls on a Sunday, whereas the first day of Passover falls on 14th day of Nisan according to the Hebrew calendar, which could be any day of the week.

The feast, as given in Leviticus 23, is to be a wave offering from the barley harvest.  This barley harvest is the very first harvest in the agricultural year of Israel.  Yeshua (Jesus) represents the firstfruits from the dead. 

1 Cor 15:20-23  But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.  For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.  But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.

This is the very day that Jesus rose from the dead.  The Resurrection Day that we celebrate today is really the fulfillment of the ancient Feast of Firstfruits!  Because of this monumental, eternity-altering event, we too can be raised unto eternal life. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Introduction, Passover, Unleavened Bread

Today is the beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  I am not Jewish, so you may ask, why is this important?  Let me start at the beginning (and I'll try to be brief).

I began to have interest in the Jewish roots of my Christian faith several years ago.  It began slowly, but then it began to pick up momentum as I kept gaining new insights.

A number of years back, I began to ponder why Christmas seemed to be of more importance to Christians than Easter.  Wasn't it Easter that represented the very culmination of our faith?  And why did the celebrations of these holidays leave me with an empty feeling?  Where did that word "Easter" come from, anyway?  The Lord put it upon me to go look up the origins of these holidays.  That I was surprised at what I found would be putting it mildly.  Our most important holiday of the year gets its name from a Babylonian goddess?  Really?

I discovered that virtually every holiday that we celebrate as Christians has its roots in paganism.  The ancient church, led by Constantine, removed the biblical celebrations (even making them illegal), and creating new "Christian" holidays based on the pagan celebrations of ancient Rome.  Christmas, Easter, Lent, All Saints Day, even Valentine's Day, for crying out loud!

So my question then became, "Is God ok with all this?"  A thorough study of scripture shows Him to be a jealous God.  The Israelites were warned over and over again to keep themselves pure and not mix in pagan customs of the nations surrounding them.  It made God angry.  They faced consequences every time they adopted the customs of the nations.  Does it still make Him angry today?  We claim that God is the same from glory to glory, never changing.   So did He change, or did we?

I began studying the ancient feasts of God, given to Israel in scripture (the Lord God says, "These are MY feasts... Leviticus 23:2).  And I have found a deep, beautiful, ever-unfolding picture of His love, mercy, and amazing plan for all of humanity.  All these feasts point to Yeshua (Jesus), the Messiah our Savior, in such a detailed way!  There is such depth to His amazing word that I am constantly discovering new insights. 

Whether you decide that it is right or wrong to celebrate Christmas and Easter, you simply cannot glean these awesome truths from the man-made customs of decorated trees with stars on them, advent candles, plastic resurrection eggs, and chocolate bunnies (delicious as they may be).

So if you are still with me and haven't clicked the red X in extreme annoyance, let's take a brief look at Passover and Unleavened Bread.  Leviticus 23 is a good place to start studying.  The seven feasts of the Lord, as well as the Sabbath, are outlined here.  Passover and Unleavened Bread are the first two of the seven.  The first three (Passover, Unleavened Bread, and Firstfruits) take place over an 8-day period and are often lumped together as one feast. 

Jesus fulfilled Passover by becoming our perfect sacrificial Lamb.  His Passover seder took place the eve before he died, as Passover was beginning.  Although he wasn't crucified until the next afternoon, it was still Passover because the Jewish day begins at sundown the night before.  When he died at 3:00 pm, that was the very hour that the Passover lambs were being sacrificed at the temple (which were to be eaten at the second seder.  Even today Jewish people celebrate first seder and second seder).  Can you imagine the furor at the temple when that curtain ripped from top to bottom the moment Jesus died?  The temple would have been very crowded at the time.

Jesus, the Bread of Life, was laid into the tomb just as the Feast of Unleavened Bread was about to begin.  His life had been perfect; free of sin, so that before God he could pay the price of sin for us.  Throughout scripture, leaven represents sin.  Our Bread of Life was born in Bethlehem, which means "House of Bread" in Hebrew.  On the cross, he became sin for us and took the penalty that we deserved (See 2 Cor 5:21)   The disciples wanted to bury him before the Sabbath, and this was not the regular weekly Sabbath.  John 19:31 tells us that this was a high Sabbath; that is, the first day of the feast of Unleavened Bread.

1 Cor 5:7-8 tells us, "For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.  Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth."  This scripture refers to both Passover and Unleavened Bread, and the fulfillment of them by Jesus.
Do these insights of the biblical feasts, and how Jesus perfectly fulfilled them, excite you as much as they do  me?  If so, then you'll want definitely want to keep reading.  My next post will highlight the Feast of Firstfruits.  If you are like me, you'll say somethng like "Wow!!"