October 30, 2016
If you go up to one of the youth rooms, you’ll find a number of great posters put together by Tim Challies – an author and blogger I really like. This is one of those posters – it’s entitled “The End of the World as We Know It” – emphasis on, as we know it. Although, it should probably read, as we think it.
You see, notice there are three distinct views of the Millennium, which speaks of a thousand-year period, and they are quite different. Basically, the one called post-millennialism says things are going to get better and better as the church grows and eventually bring in the Millennial Kingdom. The other two say, no, things will actually get worse and worse. But then they don’t agree how it will end. One says, things will get worse and worse till Jesus comes back – and that’s it – no Millennial Kingdom at all – that’s called amillennialism. The other says, things will get worse and worse until Jesus comes back and sets up His earthly Millennial Kingdom for a thousand years. That’s called premillennialism – and I suppose that’s where most of you fall.
But we can’t even agree on how that will unfold. Will there be a period of tribulation before Jesus comes back? If so, how long will that last, seven years? And if so – and this is the big question – will the church – believers – have to go through those seven years of tribulation or not? Some say no – those are pre-tribulation rapture people. What that means is they believe Jesus will come back – sort of – before the seven year tribulation and take believers out of the world. If you’ve read or seen the Left Behind series – that’s what it teaches. Others say, well, we think the church will go through part of the tribulation – then Jesus will come back, again part way – and take the church out. So they are called mid-tribulation rapture people. Still others say, believers will go through the tribulation – then Jesus will come back. They’re called post-tribulation rapture people.
Are you confused yet? I could show you charts that lay all that out, but it’s all terribly confusing. I picked this one because I loved the title. Remember, it is the end as we think it. Why do I bring that up? Because there has always been lots of confusion about prophecy, the future, end times. And that confusion typically revolves around two ideas – namely, when is Jesus coming to set up His kingdom, and what will that coming look like – namely, will we as His followers suffer before He comes? Why are we talking about this? Some of you say, we’re not – you are – and we don’t like that you’re leaving open the possibility that we might in fact suffer – maybe even in tribulation. Come on, you’re thinking, tell everyone Jesus will come back before the tribulation and get us out of here so we won’t suffer.
There’s always been confusion about the future – end times – the coming of Christ. Even in His first coming. They didn’t even know there were two comings. And we’ve seen there was a widespread understanding the Christ would come as a political, military leader and throw off Rome – establish the glorious kingdom for the Jews – in short, get rid of their suffering.
So we can imagine their surprise when He showed up with a little different message. Their charts were wrong. He didn’t come in glorious political victory – He was opposed. The religious and political leaders didn’t accept Him – He wasn’t what they were looking for. Sure, He performed lots of miracles, and His teaching was incredible, but He wasn’t gathering much of a following. In fact, we’ve seen with His rising popularity came rising opposition. This was not the way the end times prognosticators said it would happen(Saturday School). And then, you can imagine their surprise, even shock, when He took His very few followers up to Caesarea Philippi to reveal the real purpose of His first coming.
He started with, who do people say that I am? Some say John the Baptist, raised from the dead. Others say Elijah – that’s kind of interesting, because end times prognosticators said Elijah had to come first. Well, who do you say that I am? And Peter answered for all of them, you are the Christ, the Son of the living God. You got that right, Peter. So now let me tell you what I came to do. In short, your charts are wrong. We’re going to Jerusalem, where I will be handed over to the religious and political leadership. And far from setting up an earthly kingdom, I will suffer much, I will be killed, but I will be raised again the third day.
Peter said, no way, Lord – that doesn’t fit our view – what we think should happen. He took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Him. So Jesus said, get behind Me, Satan. You’re setting your mind on your interests, not God’s. You see, God has a different chart. You see, anyone who would follow Me, they too must suffer. They must deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow Me. But that’s good news – because as I give My life for you – that’s called the gospel – so also will you give up your life for Me. And in so doing, prove to be My disciples.
I know that sounds like bad news, so let me give you some good news. Some of you won’t taste death until you get a picture of the glorious kingdom I came to bring. He took His inner circle, Peter, James and John, up to a high mountain where He was transfigured before them. His clothes and face shone brighter than the noon day sun. And there Moses and Elijah – representatives of the OT economy in the Law and Prophets – appeared before them, talking with Jesus, encouraging Him in His coming suffering.
It was a true mountain top experience. Who knows – maybe that’s where the term came from. It was glorious. This is more like it. This is more like what we were expecting. Glory, radiance, power, honor, might. It caused a little confusion for the big three – Peter, James and John, trying to figure this into their end times charts. Look at the conversation with me – Mark 9:9-13.
Now that’s confusing. What does this have to do with anything? You have to understand – the disciples were trying to fit all this into their end times thinking. And it wasn’t working – especially that suffering part Jesus talked about earlier. So they thought they had Him. And Jesus catches them in their own false expectations – and maybe ours, too. This is a notoriously difficult passage. But since we are looking at it in its context, I think we can make sense of it. Let me give you a little outline:
- The Command of Silence (9)
- The Confusion of Resurrection (10)
- The Certainty of Suffering – of both the Son of Man and “Elijah” (11-13)
They’re coming off the mountain – a rather euphoric experience. Not unlike us. We have a special encounter with God and think that’s the way things ought to be, all the time. Can’t we just live on the mountaintop? Can’t we just go from spiritual high to high spiritual? Forgetting that most people live in the valleys – and the trip from mountaintop to mountaintop is through the valley.
They’re on the way down – not doubt ready to spread this news far and wide – you’re not going to believe it – we’ve seen His glory – jump on the bandwagon. And Jesus says, not so fast. He gave them orders not to tell anyone about this – don’t even tell the other nine – until after the Son of Man rises from the dead. This is the only time Jesus gives a limit to the so-called Messianic Secret – keep it quiet until after I rise from the dead. Don’t miss that – sure, there’s this resurrection thing – but resurrection means death. There you are, Jesus, talking about death again. So they seized on that statement – discussing with each other what this rising from the dead meant. Why does He keep talking about this?
They were confused. Didn’t we just see Your glory? That’s what we’ve been expecting. For You to show everyone who You truly are. Now you’re telling us to be quiet about it? And we still don’t understand death and resurrection. You see, there was a generally held understanding of resurrection – in the future – at the end of all things. But not now. And certainly not the Messiah. Doesn’t fit our charts. Two difficult things with this whole picture – the same things we struggle with. First, when, Jesus, are You going to show Yourself to the world? When are You coming back in glorious display? When are You going to set up Your kingdom? We have it all figured out. Look at our charts.
And second, our charts don’t have us suffering. Jesus is coming back before the Tribulation. Or maybe there’s not really a Tribulation at all. We’ve seen Your glory, Lord. Maybe You’re confused about Your suffering, and ours.
In fact, already point 3, Why is it the scribes have in their charts Elijah coming first? Why would they ask that question? Well, likely they were thinking about Elijah because they just saw him. But also, there was a widely held teaching that Elijah would come before the Day of the Lord. And that has a Biblical basis. Malachi 3 says:
1 “Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the LORD of hosts.
2 “But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears?”
Now we’re talking. That’s what we are expecting. That’s why to this day, when the Jews observe the Passover, they leave a seat empty for Elijah. He’s going to come before the Lord, to prepare His way. It’s going to be glorious. You say, but how do you know that’s Elijah? Malachi 4:
5 “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD.
6 “He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.”
So, Elijah is going to come and set things right to prepare the way of the Lord. The scribes – the experts in the Law – they all taught that. So how about it, Jesus? If You are the Messiah, why do they say Elijah must come first? Now, you must to understand what they were saying – isn’t Elijah’s coming going to prepare the way of the Lord which will be most glorious? What is this suffering and death and resurrection You keep talking about? We got You now, Jesus.
And we hear Jesus’ answer as He adjusts their expectations – their end times charts – and maybe ours. Jesus’ answer is a bit enigmatic – except we remember He’s talked about coming suffering – and He knows the disciples were still trying to get Him – and themselves – out of the way of the cross. Wait a minute – we just saw Elijah. We just saw Your glory. Everything is falling into place, right? Look at His answer – it’s basically threefold:
First, He says, you’re right, Elijah does come first and restore all things. But, maybe the way you expect restoration is not quite right. Maybe the way of restoration is the reason I came. In the next chapter, He’ll say it clearly – I came not to be served, but to serve, and give My life as a ransom for many.
So second, you’re appealing to what was written about Elijah – we’ll come back to him. But, what about what was written about the Son of Man – that He would suffer many things and be treated with contempt? In other words, what the OT, what Malachi, even what the scribes say about Elijah is right. But you’ve misapplied it. Or, you’ve not fully understood it. That same OT also says the Son of Man – the Servant of the Lord – will suffer. There are many indications in the OT that say the Messiah would come, suffer and die. It’s what Jesus revealed to the two on the road to Emmaus. He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken. Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and [then] to enter His glory?” Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures. No doubt that included places like Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22.
Paul would later write in explaining the gospel, “Christ died for our sins according to the Scripture, that He was buried, and He was raised on the third day according to the Scripture.” The Messiah would suffer and die for the sins of His people.
Third, Jesus says to these three on the way down from the mountain, “But I say to you that Elijah has indeed come, and they did to him whatever they wished, just as it is written of him.” Wait a minute – Elijah came? Yes. The parallel account in Matthew 17 makes it clear Jesus was speaking of John the Baptist. He was the voice of one crying in the wilderness, preparing the way of the Lord. And Jesus brings John the Baptist up to prove, to illustrate that His followers must suffer just like John did, just like He would. They did to John just as they wished. What does that mean? We remember they arrested him, and beheaded him – just like they wanted.
But what does this, just as it is written of him mean? There’s lots of discussion about that. Most agree that Elijah was a type of John the Baptist. When John came, he came in the spirit and power of Elijah. And we remember that Elijah’s greatest enemies were a king named Ahab his wife named Jezebel. Remember that? After his battle with the 450 prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel, he fled for his life and hid in a cave. Jezebel never stopped her opposition of Elijah. She sought to kill him. Elijah lived under that cloud of political and religious opposition.
Then we remember John was so opposed. He too was chased down by a king – Herod Antipas – arrested. And his greatest enemy one day caught him. I’m not talking about Herod – I’m talking about his wife, Herodias. We remember she conspired to have him beheaded – put to death – for his stand of righteousness. So again, many suggest Elijah was a type of John. They were both opposed by a woman – Jezebel and Herodias. John suffered just like Elijah – to the fullest degree.
Regardless of exactly what Jesus meant – the point is this. Our end times prognostications should not exclude suffering. This is frankly one of my concerns about this pre-trib rapture stuff – it is a deliverance doctrine – to deliver us from suffering. After all, God wouldn’t want us to suffer, would He? Whatever it looks like, there are no, “We got you, Jesus” moments. He promised suffering – crosses for those who follow Him. In fact, we should not expect our present lives to exclude suffering. If our Savior suffered, if they treated Him with contempt, if they killed Him, if the forerunner suffered, and they treated him with contempt, if they killed him, should we not expect the same?