Friday, December 21, 2012

Was Christ Created?

In John 3:16, the most popular verse of the Bible, we read that Jesus is the only "begotten" Son of God. Most people have this verse memorized, but few stop to consider what this word begotten means. When we consult a dictionary, we discover that the term "begotten" is defined as "brought forth through procreation as biological offspring." When we understand this definition, it is clear what Jesus means when he labels Himself the "only-begotten" Son of God. Unlike all other humans who have been created by God but brought forth as the offspring of a man and a woman, Jesus is the only person to have ever been brought forth biologically by a woman and God. We see, then, that Jesus was born as a human and created as such by God the Father; but did Jesus exist prior to His human birth or was His birth in Bethlehem His beginning?

Most Christians hold a trinitarian view that recognizes Jesus as coequal in every way with the Father. They reason from this assumption that Jesus, like the Father, has always existed. Contrary to this popular view, however, Scripture tells us something different. In 1 Colossians 1:15, Paul refers to Jesus as "the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation." This verse provides us with two valuable insights regarding Christ and His Father. First, we see that Jesus is visible while the Father is in-visible. The Father and Son are distinctly different in this way. Second, we learn that Jesus is the "firstborn of all creation," meaning that He was created by the Father, but that He was the first creation of the Father. This fact is upheld in verse 17 of the same passage where Paul states that Christ was "before all things" and in Revelation 3:14 where Jesus is referred to as "the Original of God's creation."

We learn why the Father created Jesus before all other things in verse 16 of the passage where we read, "For by Him [Jesus] all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities - all things have been created by Him and for Him."

Thus, God's divine order consisted of creating His Son, Jesus, first, and then delegating authority to Jesus to create everything else. Ultimately, Jesus left His position in Heaven to come to earth in order to fulfill the Father's plan. In Philippians 2, we read that Jesus made Himself of no reputation by taking on the form of man and becoming a servant, obedient unto death. Clearly, for Jesus to "make," "take on" or "become" something, He had to have existed before it. 

Because of Jesus' obedience, the Father exalts Him with a name that is above every name, to which all creation will one day bow. This event, however, will be "to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:11). All Jesus does is for the glory of His Father, which He will prove when He subjects Himself entirely to the Father at the consummation so that the Father may be all in all (1 Cor. 15:28). 

When we examine Christ and creation in the Bible, we discover that trinitarians and many nontrinitarians are mistaken regarding the pre-existence of Christ. Scripture teaches that Christ did not always exist as the Father, but that His birth in Bethlehem was also not His beginning. He existed "from the beginning" as the firstborn of the Father's creation, but He was, in fact, created by the Father along with all that is ultimately out of the Father (2 Cor. 5:18). In spite of the fact that Jesus did not always exist, He is still worthy of all honor and praise for the status given Him by the Father for His obedience unto death, His nature as the firstborn of all things, and His masterful creation. He is our Lord and Savior, given all authority for the time by the Father, until the consummation when He will subject Himself and all creation to the Father.

© 2012 by Stephen Hill

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Purpose of Prayer

In 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Paul advises saints to "pray without ceasing." Prayer, like Scripture study and fellowship, is a pillar in the life of every believer. The Concordant Version uses the term "unintermittingly" instead of "without ceasing," which reflects Paul's emphasis on the need to avoid routineness with prayer. Rather than pray only at designated times such as before meals and bed, we should be praying spontaneously throughout the day.

The Bible's emphasis on prayer couldn't be stronger, yet many of us have struggled with prayer to the point where our prayer lives have become almost non-existent. When we realize that God is completely sovereign and that our prayers will never succeed in changing His mind, the inevitable question is, "Why pray?"

What purpose does prayer serve if not to sway God's hand? In Philippians 4:7, Paul tells us to "let [our] requests be made known to God," but what is the point of making our requests known if our Father who already knows our needs and what is best for us will never be persuaded by our pleadings? If we are thankful and God already knows our hearts, what is the purpose of voicing our thankfulness in prayer? If we recognize God's goodness in the midst of suffering, what good does it do to pray when we suffer? If we pray for others but God is going to treat them no differently than if we hadn't prayed, what has our prayer accomplished? If God's will is always done, why do we need to pray that it will be done?

These are logical questions which lead many to ultimately view prayer as a meaningless waste of time. In fact, I have noticed that the majority of believers I know who understand many of the truths of God's Word struggle more with prayer than almost anything. It seems that for many, the more they recognize God's sovereignty the less they pray. I would be so bold as to say that if you are reading this article, there is a good chance that you can relate to this dilemma.

For those of us who have struggled with prayer, we realize that prayer is important and should be a priority, but we have a difficult time recognizing the value in prayer in light of the above questions. We understand that Paul (who understood God's sovereignty better than any of us) prayed regularly, but we can't make sense of why Paul prayed so often when he knew his prayers would not alter God's course one bit. We read of the many times Jesus prayed to His Father, but we can't see the need for the very Son of God to pray at all. The examples of Christ and Paul (and several others) demonstrate the great importance of prayer, but in order for us to emulate them we must recognize the real purpose of prayer in our lives.

Most Bible verses on prayer consist of instructions for how to pray or what to pray for, but do not cite a specific reason or purpose for prayer. One verse, however, does. After instructing believers to make their requests known to God in Philippians 4:7, Paul goes on to say, "...and the peace of God, that is superior to every frame of mind, shall be garrisoning your hearts and your apprehensions in Christ Jesus." 

Here, we finally have a crystal clear purpose for prayer. We learn, first of all, that prayer exists for us more than for God. After all, God is not in need of us for anything, but we are in complete need of Him for everything. Paul assures us that more than anything, prayer gives us peace. It provides us with contentment, reassurance, and a strength that garrisons our hearts and removes our fears. This mindset is not a minor phenomenon either; it is "superior to every frame of mind," meaning it has the power to literally alter our perceptions, mood and emotions, regardless of how we feel when we begin to pray.

This is why in 1 Peter 5:7, Peter tells us to "toss our entire worry on Him." When we bring our burdens in prayer to the One who has complete control over them, we are conscious of His control over them all and are brought into a peaceful frame of mind which removes our worries and enables us to continue the day with confidence and hope.

In addition to an overwhelming sense of peace, regular prayer helps us to appreciate our relationship with God. It is difficult (if not impossible) to have a relationship with someone you never speak with. When we talk to God directly via prayer, we are fully aware of how real our relationship with Him is and we feel much closer to Him as our loving Father.

When we pray for others, we are consciously aware of their needs and their value in God's eyes and are mentally committed to bearing their burdens and helping them in any way we can. The psychological power of prayer is immensely powerful, whether for ourselves or for others, and the peace it brings enables us to act as we should, free from worry.

Even the secular world understands the psychological importance of casting away our burdens to be at peace. One of the most basic tenets of secular psychology is the need for burdened people to discuss their worries with others. The mantra is, "The first step to healing is talking about the problem." Many people even keep a journal in which they "vent" by writing down all the things that bother them to "get them out" of their heads. Who better to "vent" to than God? Who better to cast our burdens on than the One who controls them all?

When we understand that God has designed prayer for us as a means of giving us peace and awareness of our relationship with Him, the questions I raised earlier make perfect sense. We make our requests known in prayer because doing so causes us to recognize God's control over them. We give thanks in prayer because by doing so we are conscious of God's goodness. We prayerfully acknowledge God in the midst of trial because doing so reminds us of His providence and mercy. We pray for others because it causes us to keep them in our thoughts and to commit to helping them. Ultimately, we pray for God's will to be done because doing so reassures us of the comforting fact that His will is always done.

If you are one of the many who struggle with prayer, I hope that this article has helped you to understand the real purpose of prayer and the importance of praying unintermittingly. Commit to praying often and without routine, and you will begin to experience a life-changing sense of peace and a strength that will enable you to trust in God and endure life's trials. The more you pray, the more you will appreciate your relationship and closeness with your loving Father. Pray for others as well, as your prayers will help you to focus on their needs in addition to your own. Recognize that your prayers don't change God, but they do change you by garrisoning your heart with the peace of God that is superior to every frame of mind.

© 2012 by Stephen Hill

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Will Christ Return Soon?

For decades, men have been attempting to predict the date of the Rapture and/or Second Coming of Christ. As believers, we echo the words of John at the close of Revelation: "Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!" We eagerly anticipate our removal from this sinful world as we are taken to our true home, and we yearn for the event to occur during our own lifetime.

To date, the vast majority of men who have predicted a date for Christ's return have been proven wrong as their predicated dates have come and gone. Often, these men were motivated more by the desire to witness the event in their own lifetimes than by a desire to search the Scriptures for an approximate date. If we are to predict Christ's return with any level of accuracy, we must abandon all personal motives and commit to basing our prediction on God's Word alone.

While it is futile to claim one hundred percent certainty regarding the exact date of Christ's return, it is a good practice to study the many prophecies related to the event and to examine the signs of the times in order to develop an understanding of an approximate date to look forward to. In Matthew 24:44, Mark 13:32-37 and Luke 21:36, Jesus encouraged His followers to keep watch and be ready for His return. In Hebrews 10:25, we read of the importance of not forsaking assembling "and so much rather as [we] are observing the day drawing near." Being prepared for the day would be difficult without having at least a general timeframe with which to work.

In this article, I will review what I believe to be the most accurate theory regarding the date of Christ's return. Please understand that I am not stating with any certainty that this prediction is correct and I may very well be wrong. Rather, I am providing you, the reader, with a timeframe and a biblically based prediction in order to highlight the urgency of this matter and encourage you to study it further on your own. If the date I discuss is accurate, the Rapture could take place literally any second, and we would be foolish to ignore one of the most significant issues of our time. If, on the other hand, the date turns out to be inaccurate, then we will have at least been mindful and watchful and will be equally thrilled when Christ does finally call us home.

As you study prophecy on your own, you will come across many different theories pertaining to the Rapture and Second Coming. Preterists do not even recognize these as future events, as they mistakingly believe these prophecies have already been fulfilled in a figurative sense. As this view negligently disregards the promised literal fulfillment of prophecy, I will not lend it any credibility or address it here. Of those who recognize that prophecy will be literally fulfilled as promised, some view both the Rapture and Second Coming as one and the same instead of understanding the Rapture to be one of Paul's uniquely revealed mysteries. For my purposes, I will consider them to be separate events. Among those who believe the events are separate, there are those who believe the Rapture will occur prior to the seven-year Tribulation (Pretribulationism) and others who believe it will occur in the middle of the seven-year Tribulation (Mid-tribulationism). I will be taking the Pretribulationism view here. These theories are extremely in-depth topics on their own, so if you desire to learn more about each position, I encourage you to study your Bible and to submit questions.

Once we establish that the Rapture and Second Coming are separate events and that the Rapture occurs prior to the seven-year Tribulation, we can examine prophecy to see if we can arrive at some sort of time frame for when these events might take place. Keep in mind that Jesus does not know the date of the Rapture, but will know the date of His Second Coming as there are prior signs (like the abomination of desolation in the middle of the Tribulation) which provide a mathematical starting point for calculating the date of the Second Coming.

As I have studied prophecy, I have come to believe that one theory stands above the rest in predicting the date of the Second Coming because it is the only theory that seems to leave nothing out and to adhere consistently to Scripture. This theory is known as the "seven day week theory."

The number 7 is extremely significant in Scripture and begins with the seven days of creation. Interestingly, the number 7 is significant even in nature. When passed through a prism, light reveals seven colors; music is composed primarily of seven major notes; the elements contain seven levels of periodicity; there are seven crystal systems for the formation of minerals. In short, the number 7 is the key number of creation and is repeatedly depicted as such in God's revelation.

When we read the beginning of Genesis, we read that God "rested" on the seventh day of creation. He created the first six days and "rested" the seventh day. This is interesting, indeed, considering that the Almighty Creator Who spoke creation into being does not need rest. What does this really mean? We discover the answer when we see how God treated the seventh day when He gave the law to the Hebrews. Just as the seventh day was a day of rest during creation, it is a day of rest for God's people. Six periods of hard work and trial are always followed by one period of rest and peace.

If we apply this formula to the timeline of history and prophecy, we will inevitably have six periods of work and trial followed by one period of rest. The question, then, is how long are those periods?

In Psalm 90:4 and 2 Peter 3:8, we are told to not be ignorant of the fact that to the LORD a day is as a thousand years. Could it be that we are instructed to not be ignorant of this fact because it reveals God's purpose and plan? By equating the seven days to seven periods of a thousand years, we discover that we are incredibly close to the end of the sixth "day," or thousand year period. We know that Christ's millennial reign on earth is a thousand years in length (Rev. 20) and would appropriately represent the seventh day "rest" period when He rules in perfection and binds Satan to prevent him from causing harm.

According to historians, Christ most likely died in the year 32 AD, 4,004 years after the creation of Adam and Eve. His baptism most likely occurred in the year 28 AD when He was thirty years old, 4,000 years after creation. This, then, marks the end of the fourth "day," or thousand year period. The sixth "day" would then end 2,000 years later in the year 2028 AD. Might this be the date of Christ's Second Coming?

Matthew 24 includes the parable of the fig tree, which describes the timing of Jesus' Second Coming. Jesus tells His disciples, "Verily, I am saying to you that by no means may this generation be passing by till all these things should be occurring." None of the men Jesus addressed lived to see the event; in fact, more than 2,000 years have passed since Jesus said this! Jesus could have only been referring to a generation of Israel in the future, once Israel regained possession of the land. This occurred in 1948 when Israel regained its statehood after over 1900 years of being scattered abroad throughout the world. In Psalm 90:10, we read that a generation equals 70 or 80 years, and using 1948 as a starting point, we arrive at 2018 or 2028 for the possible date of the Second Coming. If it were 2018, the Tribulation would have begun in 2011 and the Rapture prior to that. Since that time has come and gone, we know that of these two possibilities, 2028 is the only option.

Now that I have reviewed the theory, let me state again that I am not arguing that 2028 AD is, without a doubt, the year that Christ will return to establish His earthly kingdom. After all, the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God (1 Cor. 1:20) and many intelligent and well-studied men have gotten this wrong. If, however, Christ will return in 2028, then the Rapture will take place before the year 2021 - sometime in the next eight years! The signs of the times are more evident now than ever before. The nations of the world (including the United States) are becoming increasingly hostile to Israel, nations and families are fighting amongst themselves more than ever, and the world is moving politically into a system of one-world government. As my friend Martin Zender says, "The other men who have predicted the Second Coming have been confident but wrong, but we are the first to be right!" Let us remain watchful and alert, knowing that Christ's return is fast approaching, eager to proclaim, "Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!"

© 2012 by Stephen Hill