Tag Archives: church

Two Witnesses – Better Than One . . .

The savior of mankind, Jesus, foretold of two last-days witnesses who will proclaim the everlasting Gospel of reconciliation between God and man one last time before God’s incredible wrath against creation is poured out.

The two witnesses are identified as the two olive trees and two candlesticks that stand before God. You’ll find references to the two olive trees that stand before God in Revelation 11:4 and Zechariah 4:11-14:

Then I said to him, “What are these two olive trees on the right of the lampstand and on its left?” And I answered the second time and said to him, “What are the two olive branches which are beside the two golden pipes, which empty the golden oil from themselves?” So he answered me, saying, “Do you not know what these are?” And I said, “No, my lord.” Then he said, “These are the two anointed ones who are standing by the Lord of the whole earth.” —Zechariah 4:11-14.

These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. —Revelation 11:4.

We can only guess at who these two end-times witnesses will be. Some believe they’ll be Enoch and Elijah because they were taken to heaven by God without suffering physical death. Others believe they’ll be Moses and Elijah because they were the ones who appeared on the mountain with Jesus and Peter (cf. Matthew 17:1-3) and because the miracles of the witnesses mirror those performed by Moses and Elijah.

What we do know is that the two witnesses will prophesy for three and a half years during the entire Great Tribulation sponsored by the Antichrist. They will have the supernatural ability to control the rain, turn water to blood, and smite the earth with plagues (this sounds a lot like what happened in Egypt during the exodus).

BEHOLD, HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen

Who Needs the Church?

There’s the Church, which is the entire assembly of Jesus’ followers, and there are churches (lower case), which can represent local collections of Christian believers or followers (there is a difference!).

The Church as a whole is responsible for being obedient to our covenant with the Christ. We are to do these things in particular:

  • Evangelize: How will people hear the good news of salvation if we don’t tell them?? (Matthew 28:19-20; Romans 1:16 and 10:14-15; 2Corinthians 5:18-20)
  • Be Charitable: The collecting of funds and other resources in the first-century Church was for the care of others including those who traveled to spread the Gospel message.
    • Care for brothers & sisters in Christ (Matthew 25:41-43; James 2:13-17; Acts 4:32-35; Acts 6:1-5)
    • Care for traveling evangelists (3John 1:7-8; Philippians 4:14-19)
    • Worship: Although we worship God and our Christ through our speech and actions, we can also do this in song and dance. (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16)
    • Governance: No one should be more important than another or ‘lord it over’ others, but fill roles as the Holy Spirit enables them.
      • Elders – overseers within the churches (Acts 14:23; 1Timothy 5:17)
      • Deacons – servants in the churches (1Timothy 3:8-13)
      • Bishops – overseers among the churches (1Timothy 3:1-7)
      • Discipleship: This is a very necessary step after evangelizing the Gospel message! We must share spiritual gifts, teach, mentor, and disciple to help others increase in their faith and stand firm against all kinds of wickedness and false teaching (Matthew 28:19-20; Romans 6:17 and 10:17; Colossians 1:28 and 3:16; 2Timothy 3:16; Titus 1:9 and 2:3; Hebrews 5:12-14)

In summary, the Church at large is composed of true followers of Jesus who are obedient out of their faith by honoring God and treating their fellow humankind appropriately. This includes caring for them.  Additionally, Jesus commanded us to spread the good news of salvation and make disciples. Everything we do as the corporate Church should work together for these purposes.

So . . . do you belong to the Church, a church, or both?

It’s the Final Countdown . . .

According to Jesus, the “end of the age” will be the conclusion of this current age – era or world – with the Great Judgment and the creation of a new heaven and earth. According to the apostle Paul, we’re already in the “last days” leading up to the end.

The final countdown to the grand finale of our world as we know it has begun and the clock’s ticking is getting louder as we see signs of the times and anticipate the conclusion of God’s creation in its current form.

A glimpse of what’s to come:

  1. Increase in the frequency and intensity of false saviors, wars, and earthquakes.
  2. An evil authority we call the Antichrist and an agreement with Israel, kicking off a final seven-year epoch.
  3. Breaking the agreement in the middle followed by the beginning a three-and-a-half-year reign of terror like never seen before or again.
  4. Jesus’ highly-anticipated appearing and the gathering of the spirits of those who are His, and the wrath of God against the rest of the world.
  5. The 1,000-year reign of Jesus following God’s incredible wrath.
  6. Destruction of Satan and final judgment.
  7. God’s new and never-ending heaven and earth.

Looking for guidance? Many man-made theories propped up by a few, specific Biblical verses (often taken out of context) abound.  So, find out for yourself!  Here’s how to begin:

  1. Read Matthew chapter 24.
  2. Read Revelation chapter 6.
  3. Compare what you read in Matthew to the Revelation. You’ll find corroboration between the two and a sequence resembling that given here.
  4. Look for unbiased and complete studies such as my “Finding the End of the World” (available on Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and www.ronbraley.com) to broaden your knowledge and faith.

Remember: a countdown is no good if you don’t know when it began or what time it is!

144,000 Raised & Perfect!

Little is known about this group that will be redeemed from among men in the last days (cf. Revelation 14:14), but God will clearly set them apart and protect them during the time of His wrath. They’ll be in Jerusalem with Christ at the onset of His kingdom.

The following are key points regarding the 144,000:

  • Sealed for protection against God’s impending wrath (cf. Revelation 7:3-8 & 9:4).
  • Seen with Christ on Mount Zion during the time of God’s wrath, but before the seventh trumpet when Christ will gain His kingdom and enter Jerusalem. They “follow Him wherever He goes” (cf. Revelation 14:1).
  • There’ll be a new song in heaven that no man can learn but the 144,000 redeemed from the earth (cf. Revelation 14:2-3).
  • Redeemed from among men, being the first-fruits unto God and to the Lamb (cf. Revelation 14:4).
  • They’ll be virgins and without fault (cf. Revelation 14:4-5). I remind those who ask “How will this be possible?” that this group will have been redeemed from the earth and will be first fruits unto the Christ, implying resurrection for the purpose of serving with Him in His kingdom (see the references above).

What we know

  • The group will be 144,000 first-fruits unto Christ redeemed from the earth.
  • They’ll be protected against God’s wrath (e.g. the sixth trumpet judgment in Revelation 9:4). They’ll also be seen with Christ during the time of God’s wrath and will be with Him as He gains His kingdom at the seventh trumpet.

What we don’t know:

  • Where the ten lost tribes of the kingdom of Israel are today (although there’s much speculation on the subject). However, God has promised Israel to bring a remnant from the tribes back together at the end and protect them.
  • Specifically, why Christ will select them—unless their purpose is to reign with Him.

Unsupported Theories:

  • The 144,000 will be Jews for Jesus evangelizing the world.
  • The 144,000 won’t be Jews but special evangelizing Christians.
  • The 144,000 are symbolic and represent particular Christian denominations.

A new age is coming . . .

Let the Feasting Begin!

In His covenant with His bride, Israel, God ordained 7 feasts and festivals: 4 in the spring, and 3 in the fall.  While followers of Jesus aren’t forced to observe them, knowing of the events and their past, present, and future significance will help understand where we’ve come from and God’s covenant with Israel and our Christ’s covenant with the world are related.

~ Spring Feasts of the Lord (fulfilled by Jesus’ first coming) ~

Feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread: These first two spring feasts commemorate the salvation of the Hebrews from God’s judgment against Pharaoh and their exodus from Egypt in about 1445 BC. Passover commences on the 14th day of the first month at twilight. The Feast of Unleavened Bread lasts for 7 days beginning on the day after Passover. Jesus fulfilled the role of Passover lamb sacrificed for the choice of salvation (just as with the Hebrews in Egypt), and He represented the removal of leaven (yeast) – sin, as we see in 1Corinthians 5:6-8.

Feast of First fruits: This marks the beginning of the harvest period and gives Israel an opportunity to present the first fruits of that harvest to God in thanksgiving. It occurs 50 days prior to the Feast of Weeks. Jesus fulfilled this event as the first fruits of the resurrected dead presented to the Father (1Corinthians 15:20 & 35-48).

The Feast of Weeks (Pentecost): This particular feast occurs 7 weeks and a day (50 days total) after the feast of First Fruits. The purpose is to signal the end of the grain harvest and give thanks to God for His provision. It’s also marked the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to send the Spirit of God to empower His followers for ministry (John 14:16).

~ Fall Feasts of the Lord (will be fulfilled by Jesus’ return to earth) ~

The Feast of Trumpets: This ‘memorial of blowing of trumpets’ is to happen on the first day of the 7th month (usually September) and will most likely signal our Christ’s return to earth and the gathering of His bride at the ‘last trumpet’ (cf. Matthew 24:30-31 and 1Thessalonians 4:16-17).

The Day of Atonement: The event is meant to be a time of atonement for the Jews and will most likely mark the manifestation of salvation and reconciliation between God and Israel at the end of the ‘time of the gentiles’ (cf. Luke 21:24 and Romans 11:25-27).

The Feast of Tabernacles: Finally, this feast commemorates the Israelites’ time in the desert just before entering the land of Canaan. During the festival, which lasts 7 days, Jews are compelled to live in structures – booths – made of branches, twigs, and leaves. This practice most likely also represents the time of Jesus’ kingdom where He will dwell with man and once again be the protector and provider for Israel.

Which will it be for you – feast or famine (spiritually-speaking)?

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What is Hell Like?

Personal opinions on the subject of hell range from a profession of its existence as the fire-and-brimstone punishment for the person with unrepentant sin to a belief that it’s a mythical place since, “A good god would never kill his people!” The truth is that God is a just god who offered us a choice: follow Him and His Christ and live or don’t and die (spiritually). He created a place within the earth to serve as a means of destruction – a consequence that awaits the spirits of those who didn’t choose life through faith and resulting obedience.

Originally created for eventual judgment of the fallen angels (including their leader, Lucifer) hell will also be the final destination for the spirits of unrighteous humans. As well, this is the holding place of those spirits of the unrighteous awaiting judgment. Scripture is pretty clear about this. We also find references to this holding place and the fiery judgment from others like Enoch, the grandson of Adam.

  • Hell – holding place Hades = Sheol: holding place of the spirits of those whose names aren’t recorded in heaven as they await judgment. This place will be unnecessary and eliminated when death is abolished at God’s great judgment (cf. Revelation 20:15).

References include: Matthew 11:23 and 16:18; Luke 10:15 and 16:22-23; Acts 2:27 & 31; 1Corinthians 15:55; 2Peter 2:4; Revelation 1:18, 6:8, and 20:13-14

  • Hell – fiery judgment Gehenna & Lake of Fire: last-days consequences for the wicked after judgment. Scripture and the Book of Enoch describe this as a place within the earth that produces incredible heat and flames. Read Luke 16:23-24 and you’ll see words and phrases like ‘hades’ and ‘torment’ and “I am in agony in this flame”. So, for those who believe hell is figurative or a parable – I’d reconsider.
  • Gehenna references include: Matthew 5:22-30, 10:28, 18:9 and 23:15 & 33; Mark 9:43, 45, & 47; Luke 12:5; James 3:6

Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. —Matthew 10:28.

  • Lake of fire references include: Revelation 19:20, 20:10 & 14-15, and 21:8

Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. —Revelation 20:14-15.

Now that we know what hell is, let’s address what it isn’t. Contrary to popular opinion, hell isn’t a multi-layered furnace where sinners are divided and placed based on the bad things they did on earth. This concept is fantasy based on “Dante’s Inferno” – the first part of a poem titled Divine Comedy. It’s not even loosely based on Scripture and shouldn’t be taken as such. Anyone whose name isn’t recorded in heaven among the righteous at their time of death will find their spirit waiting in holding-place hell until their final disposition: hell as a fiery judgment.

What’s your destination?

The Sign of the End

If there will be a single significant sign immediately preceding the gathering of Jesus’ followers (dead and alive) and the wrath of God against the remaining population of earth, it’ll be a complete darkening of the natural lights. Ancient prophets foretold this. Jesus confirmed it to His disciples on the Mount of Olives in about 27 AD and in the Revelation given to John in roughly 90 AD. It’s the one event that will signal the end of the greatest time of tribulation known to humankind. The complete darkening will also be a clear indication that the time of harvests has come: the gathering of Jesus’ followers and preparation of the rest for destruction.

Foretelling of the darkening that will precede God’s great wrath:

 I will display wonders in the sky and on the earth, Blood, fire and columns of smoke. The sun will be turned into darkness And the moon into blood Before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. —Joel 2:30-31.

Jesus’ confirmation that the darkening will precede God’s wrath:

I looked when He broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood; and the stars of the sky fell to the earth, . . .  Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man . . . said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” —Revelation 6:12-17.

Jesus’ revelation that the darkening will also precede the gathering of His true followers:

But 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 the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. . . .  and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY . . . and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other. —Matthew 24:29-31.

‘Lights out’ will mean salvation for some and destruction for others. Which will it be for you?

 

 

The Church: Then and Now

People have asked me several times to explain how today’s churches compare to the first-century Church. Good things can come from the Christian culture and church business model we experience today (some missions, some training, some benevolence, and governance).  However, they’re limited in scope and pale in comparison to the overshadowing abuse of Scripture, lack of discipleship training, and overarching concern about supporting the business of church.

Jesus intended for us to do three things per His commandments: treat God the Father appropriately, treat our fellow humans charitably, and spread the good news of salvation. This is what the early Church did despite great persecution and poverty, and they succeeded by sharing resources and using spiritual gifts. Everyone was on the same functional level and they filled roles as the Spirit of God enabled them. Today, churches are segregated business units with paid professionals, organizational charts, and exorbitant capital and operational expenses. The focus has, therefore, shifted from evangelism and charity to managing the business, and attracting and appeasing consumers of religious and emotional experiences.

A picture is certainly worth a thousand words, so you’ll find below a table that summarizes Church roles and responsibilities. It includes a comparison of the ancient and modern Churches and related Scripture references.

 

Function or Role

1st-Century Church

Today’s Church

Related Scripture

       
Evangelism One of three critical functions; To be done by all Not a priority or typically nurtured; Related to a lack of discipleship and training efforts Psalms 96

Matthew 28:19-20

Mark 16:15

Luke 24:47

Acts 1:8

Romans 1:16 and 10:12-15

2Corinthians 5:18-20

Benevolence: Brothers & Sisters in Christ Critical for survival; benevolence is one of three critical functions of the Church; we’ll be judged by Jesus for our involvement;  To be done by all Not a focus for resources or activities (only about 1% of funds collected) Matthew 25:41-43

Acts 2:45, 4:32-35, and 6:1-5

Romans 12:5-13

1Corinthians 16:1-5

2Corinthians 8:10-20 and 9:1-5

Ephesians 4:28

James 2:13-17

1John 3:14-18

Benevolence: Traveling Evangelists Critical for survival; benevolence is one of three critical functions of the Church Some missionary support; most care of missionaries/traveling evangelists comes from individual followers of Jesus outside normal ‘tithes’ Acts 20:34-35

Romans 16:1-2

1Corinthians 9:1-14

2Corinthians 11:7-9

Philippians 4:14-19

Titus 3:13-14

3John 1:7-8

Discipleship One of three important functions of the Church (the other two: benevolence and evangelism); done by those more mature in their faith Not generally a priority as evidenced by Scriptural illiteracy and lack of programs (95% or more of those who say they believe in Jesus don’t read the Bible or regularly engage in study) Matthew 28:19-20

Romans 6:17 and 10:17

Colossians 1:28 and 3:16

2Timothy 3:16

Titus 1:9 and 2:3

Hebrews 5:12-14

Governance Oversight through mature Christians and Bishops (overseers) Multiple levels of responsibilities; incumbents are usually paid Acts 14:23;

1Corinthians 12:27-29

1Timothy 3:1-13 and 5:17

Fund Raising Done for benevolence without mandate or limit Done through threats of robbing God (OT Scriptural misuse) or promises of prosperity; Funds are used primarily for salaries, real-estate, or related business expenses See ‘Benevolence’ scriptures above
Worship Outward; participatory More inward; audience and performance-based Ephesians 5:19

Colossians 3:16

 

Which ‘Church’ do you belong to?

Judge Dread

The idea of judging really trips people up. Many know their own faults or past sins and feel they have no right to judge others about anything as a result. On the other hand, some people behave as though it’s their duty to inform everyone around them of every act they feel is contrary to God’s Word. The truth regarding judging others resides somewhere in the middle.

Are we to judge at all? Definitely! But, let’s take a look at what the word judge means before we go any further. It comes from the Greek word kree’-no, which means to ‘call into question’. Of course, we can’t call anything into question if we don’t know what should be questionable or why. Who should judge whom? According to Jesus, God will judge the world – those who aren’t Jesus’ followers – and Jesus will judge followers at His return and the end of this current age. Meanwhile, we’re to hold one another accountable for growth and moral positioning.

It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife. You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst . . . Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. . . . Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES. —1Corinthians 5:1-13.

So, how are we to judge other followers of Jesus? We are to be careful and gentle, basing the ‘questioning’ on adherence to the Christ’s commandments and not on emotion. The goal must always be to help those followers who are ‘sinning’ to turn back to the truth and be reconciled with the church (e.g. James 15:19-20).  The text below not only confirms that but also reminds us that we’re not to tolerate the unrepentant practice of sinful behavior within the Church.

“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” —Matthew 18:15-17.

Want to ‘love’ your brother or sister in the Christ? Then judge them according to God and our Christ’s commandments with a sense of urgency before it’s too late for those who are practicing sinful behavior that will earn them a one-way ticket to God’s judgment!