In our article, Converting ‘Pauls’ into ‘Sauls’ we highlighted the importance for all to break the cycle of judging one another and look to the life and ministry of Jesus, not the Hebrew prophets, as the exemplar for our conduct. We explained that when a religious organization teaches its members to judge the value of another’s religion, that religion becomes a breeding ground for apostasy, agnosticism, and even atheism. It is the prime reason why once faithful preachers of the good news turn into persecutors against their own religion – from Pauls to Sauls. This article is a continuation of the counsel to look to Jesus rather than the prophets to guide us through our temporal life on earth in anticipation and in preparation of the real life in the heavens. (1 Timothy 6:19)
A common theme in the articles on our site is the need to focus on the actual, authentic, plain and open teachings of Jesus. This is so vital in our day since the majority of Christian religions focus their ministry on eschatology – the study of prophecy and end times – rather than the actual and factual matters that Jesus taught. Yes, Jesus did prophesy about the destruction of Jerusalem and his second coming, and he allowed the Apostle John to see various visions which John recorded in the book of Revelation. But none of these prophetic matters excuse us from exercising faith in the actual, factual teachings.
We can only truly understand a prophecy after it has been fulfilled. Up until that day, we can only speculate as to its meaning and timing. But the plain and open teachings can be understood and applied now and they do not change according to world events or the whims of men. Even when they have been shrouded with superfluous manmade ideas, the plain and open teachings remain untarnished and unambiguous no matter who peels back the dross.
Although eschatology experienced a tremendous boom in the 19th century, Christians have long been in keen anticipation of the end of ‘the system of things,’ followed by the immediate return of Jesus. These ideas arose from Jesus’ discussion with his apostles one night on the Mount of Olives where he foretold the destruction of Jerusalem, the adversity that his followers would suffer, and his second coming. Matthew, Mark and Luke recorded their recollections of that discussion at Matthew 24-25, Mark 13 and Luke 21.
We note that all of the books of the Christian scriptures, except the writings of the Apostle John, were written during the period 41 C.E. to 65 C.E., prior to, and in anticipation of, the destruction of Jerusalem which occurred in 70 C.E. Therefore, when considering the prophecies recorded in those books, it is important to understand that those who wrote them and those who read them in the first century, applied the prophecies to events they expected would occur in connection with the destruction of Jerusalem. And as Jesus foretold, the generation that heard his words did not pass away until all the things he foretold about Jerusalem’s destruction had occurred. (Matthew 24:34)
However, the destruction of Jerusalem was not followed by the return of Jesus. What happened? We know Jesus would not lie or mislead, so had the Bible writers misunderstood Jesus’ words? Instead of re-examining their recollection and understanding of what occurred that evening on the Mount, the early Christians presumed Jesus’ prophecies had a greater fulfillment at which time surely Jesus would return and establish his kingdom on earth. (Acts 1:6) It does not appear that they considered the possibility that Jesus would return at a time that would be separate and distinct from any other prophetic event.
More than 60 years after Jesus’ ascension, the Apostle John, the only then-living Apostle, wrote what came to be known as the Gospel of John, and the books 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, and Revelation. Due to their expectation of a greater fulfillment of Jesus’ earlier prophecies, John’s Revelation has been linked to the prophecies concerning Jerusalem’s destruction and the second coming of Jesus at which time there will be a greater tribulation culminating in a decisive war of God against disobedient mankind, followed by a period of peace, another terrible war, and finally a lasting peace. But there are other interpretations.
Other Christians do not link Revelation with the second coming. They believe the prophecy has already been chiefly fulfilled in the past, primarily with the destruction of Rome. Some believe the prophecy is an overview of history and major historical events, including a few they believe will occur in the future. Still others believe the prophecy is spiritual, representing higher and larger ideas and ideals which are equally relevant in all ages and for all people. While we do believe there will be endings and beginnings of eras and dispensations, we are more inclined to view Revelation as a spiritual prophecy, but we are open to additional possibilities.
And we firmly believe in Jesus’ promise that he will someday return. The Apostle John confirmed this as recorded in his gospel account which was written in 98 C.E., well after the destruction of Jerusalem, and two years after he wrote Revelation. John recorded Jesus as saying:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Exercise faith in God, exercise faith also in me. In the house of my Father there are many abodes. Otherwise, I would have told you, because I am going my way to prepare a place for you. Also if I go my way and prepare a place for you, I am coming again and will receive you home to myself, that where I am you also may be. And where I am going you know the way.”
– John 14:1-4
Here, Jesus does not link his second coming to any cataclysmic event. He simply states that he will come again and will receive us. Therefore, while we can rest assured that Jesus will return one day to our earth, we should be cautious about emphatically linking it to any other event.
We provide this perspective and the alternative views because many are so immersed in their own interpretations of the book of Revelation that they forget they are interpretations and opinions, not established fact. The truth is that there are many and varied interpretations by sincere people who are just as diligently looking for understanding. No, the interpretations of Revelation are not settled, nor is it an absolute certainty that there will be a catastrophic end in our near future. In fact, since Revelation was given by ‘the Prince of Peace’ (Revelation 1:1-2; Isaiah 9:6), we wonder if the ‘great day of God the Almighty’ is more likely to be a productive rather than a destructive event. And when we think of what our brothers in Africa and the Middle East are currently experiencing, the literal 7-year tribulation of Revelation would be a relief!
The bottom line is that with prophecy, we never know exactly what they mean or when they will be fulfilled until that day actually arrives. We are expressly told as much:
“Concerning that day and hour nobody knows, neither the angels of the heavens nor the Son, but only the Father.”
– Matthew 24:36
"He said to them: ‘It does not belong to you to get knowledge of the times or seasons which the Father has placed in his own jurisdiction.’”
– Acts 1:7
While we can indulge in the occasional delight of speculation about prophecy, we must be careful not to crystalize their meanings. We can very easily keep these matters open and fluid as the world scene changes, while at the same time focusing on what we can know to be true, actual and factual – the plain and open teachings of Jesus.
The Fruits of Eschatology
In spite of the instability and fluidity of prophesy, many Christian preachers spend a significant amount of time calculating the end and explaining their interpretations of prophecies to their congregations and churches. They highlight various world events and use them as evidence for their conclusions. They develop ‘Bible Codes’ and eschatological charts apparently to expose God’s timetable and, in essence, steal the information that God has refused to voluntarily reveal.
But is it reasonable to believe that God would plant codes in the Bible to reveal information that Jesus emphatically said God would not reveal? Is it reasonable to believe that Jesus mis-spoke about the Father’s decision not to reveal that information? Can man out-think or out-maneuver God? Hardly! Yet this is exactly what the study of eschatology presumes. And it is exactly this type of gamesmanship that colors the Bible as a puzzle or an enigma, instead of what it is, a straightforward revelation of the highest truth of the day.
But why the obsession with end times rather than with the plain and open teachings? We believe it is because many Christians leaders equate prophecy with ‘the deep things of God’ (1 Corinthians 2:10; Romans 11:33), and believe that those who understand prophecy are those who have received personal divine revelation. Interpreters of prophecy manufacture in people a crippling need to continue coming to such ‘prophets’ for information, insight and salvation, and pledging to them their loyalty and material resources. The plain and open teachings cannot be manipulated for that purpose. So, they brush past the plain and open teachings, seeing them as elementary doctrines suitable for spiritual babes, and unsuitable for their purposes.
However, the plain and open teachings empower the individual. They emphasize that we are sons of God and heirs to the heavenly kingdom. (Galatians 3:26; Romans 8:17) Once we realize and accept our anointing as sons, we are no longer under the tutelage and control of men:
"Now I say that as long as the heir is a babe he does not differ at all from a slave, lord of all things though he is, but he is under men in charge and under stewards until the day his father appointed beforehand. Likewise we also, when we were babes, continued enslaved by the elementary things belonging to the world. But when the full limit of the time arrived, God sent forth his Son, who came to be out of a woman and who came to be under law, that he might release by purchase those under law, that we, in turn, might receive the adoption as sons. Now because you are sons, God has sent forth the spirit of his Son into our hearts and it cries out: “Abba, Father!” So, then, you are no longer a slave but a son; and if a son, also an heir through God.”
– Galatians 4:1-7
Once we accept the plain and open teachings, the Spirit of Truth takes over our education:
“However, when that one arrives, the spirit of the truth, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak of his own impulse, but what things he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things coming.”
– John 16:13
“And as for you, the anointing that you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to be teaching you; but, as the anointing from him is teaching you about all things, and is true and is no lie, and just as it has taught you, remain in union with him.”
– 1 John 2:27
Unfortunately, there are many so-called Christian teachers and preachers who are making a name for themselves as would merchants and businessmen. The diluted ministry of today is a watered down approach to the greatness of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. His magnificence is pushed aside in favor of self-glorifying prophetic interpretations. Instead of promoting the surpassing love of the Christ and the glorious heavenly career, they promote fear of the future and anoint themselves as the only means for salvation. Instead of reaching out to their brothers in loving and faithful service, they separate themselves as a special chosen people, judging all others who do not share their views as deserving of destruction.
Focusing on prophetic interpretations causes one to become overly concerned about preserving their physical lives. Jesus counseled against that:
“So never be anxious and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or, ‘What are we to drink?’ or, ‘What are we to put on?’ For all these are the things the nations are eagerly pursuing. For your heavenly Father knows you need all these things. Keep on, then, seeking first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all these [other] things will be added to you. So never be anxious about the next day, for the next day will have its own anxieties. Sufficient for each day is its own badness.”
– Matthew 6:31-34
It causes one to be fearful of the future and the symbolic characters depicted in the prophecy. But Jesus said:
“And do not become fearful of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; but rather be in fear of him that can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.”
– Matthew 10:28
These people have forgotten the significance of their baptism. They forget that by their baptism, they have already died as to this world and have given up their earthly life so that they may attain to the heavenly resurrection:
“[D]o you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we were buried with him through our baptism into his death, in order that, just as Christ was raised up from the dead through the glory of the Father, we also should likewise walk in a newness of life. For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we shall certainly also be [united with him in the likeness] of his resurrection.”
– Romans 6:3-5
This is why Paul counseled:
“If, however, you were raised up with the Christ, go on seeking the things above, where the Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Keep your minds fixed on the things above, not on the things upon the earth. For you died, and your life has been hidden with the Christ in union with God.”
– Colossians 3:1-3
Our secular life on earth may be concerned with physical things, but when we come together in a Christian fellowship, our focus should be on our spiritual lives and things that will help us to attain our heavenly goals. That is the purpose of the plain and open teachings. The Christian writings provide the foundation for the plain and open teachings, but the spirit expands and deepens our understanding by adding meanings and values to those simple concepts.
“Now we received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is from God, that we might know the things that have been kindly given us by God. These things we also speak, not with words taught by human wisdom, but with those taught by [the] spirit, as we combine spiritual [matters] with spiritual [words]. But a physical man does not receive the things of the spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot get to know [them], because they are examined spiritually. However, the spiritual man examines indeed all things, but he himself is not examined by any man. For “who has come to know the mind of Jehovah, that he may instruct him?” But we do have the mind of Christ.”
– 1 Corinthians 2:12-15
As we have demonstrated time and time again on this site, the plain and open teachings have tremendous depth of which modern man has only scratched the surface. (See the articles in the section, Building Up the Brotherhood.) There are so many things that need to be discussed in a Christian fellowship to build up our most holy faith that there is no need to resort to the ever changing, unreliable prophetic interpretations of men. Rather than spending our time on matters that we simply cannot know for a certainty, or resting our eternal future to the vacillating interpretations of men, we should be focusing on the things we can know – the actual, factual matters contained in the plain and open teachings of Jesus.
What Does It Matter?
A review of Bible prophecy does indicate that there will be an end of an age or a system of things, though it is not clear how that will actually occur. But, as mentioned above, to a baptized Christian, the end of the age or the end of the system of things has little importance because he has already given up his earthly life.
We know that when we are called to lay down our life struggle and pass through the portal of death, we will thereafter stand in the immediate presence of judgment and be face to face with the facts of a new dispensation of service in the heavens. What the whole world must face as a literal fact at the some time end of an age, we, as individuals, will most certainly face as a personal experience when we reach the end of our natural life.
The downfall of nations, the crash of empires, the end of an age, even the end of the world, have little to do with one who believes in the gospel of the kingdom that we are all sons of God who have hidden our lives in the surety of the eternal kingdom. All who are God-knowing and gospel-believing have already received the assurances of eternal life. (See Everlasting Life Now!) Since our lives are being lived in the spirit and for the Father, nothing can be of serious concern to us. The Father’s kingdom cannot be disturbed or distorted by earthly upheavals or planetary cataclysms. As Jesus said:
“Rather, store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”
– Matthew 6:20
Each of us should carry on our work in view of the possible return of the Son of Man exactly as each of us carries forth our lifework in view of the inevitable and ever-impending natural death. When we have by faith once established ourselves as a son of God, nothing else matters as regard the surety of survival. However, we must ever keep in mind that having once accepted our sonship will not save us in the face of the knowing and persistent rejection of those same truths which have to do with progressively bearing spiritual fruit. At any time, we can desert the Father and our ministry if we so choose. Therefore, it is important for us to consider Peter’s words:
“Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of persons ought you to be in holy acts of conduct and deeds of godly devotion, awaiting and keeping close in mind the presence of the day of Jehovah, through which [the] heavens being on fire will be dissolved and [the] elements being intensely hot will melt!”
– 2 Peter 3:11-12
The focus should be on our ‘holy acts of conduct’ and our ‘deeds of godly devotion,’ matters that are the crux of the plain and open teachings of Jesus. We should be working toward the mandate:
“You must accordingly be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
– Matthew 5:48
Holy acts of conduct are the things we do that honor the Father and our relationship with Him and our brothers. They can be ministry-related like teaching the plain and open teachings, or they can be secular-related like showing kindness to a stranger. (Luke 10:30-37) Note Jesus’ words:
“[J]ust as you want men to do to you, do the same way to them.”
– Luke 6:31
“For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink on the ground that you belong to Christ, I truly tell you, he will by no means lose his reward.”
– Luke 9:41
“Stop judging that you may not be judged; for with what judgment you are judging, you will be judged; and with the measure that you are measuring out, they will measure out to you.”
– Matthew 7:1-2
“Then Peter came up and said to him: “Lord, how many times is my brother to sin against me and am I to forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him: “I say to you, not, Up to seven times, but, Up to seventy-seven times.”
– Matthew 18:21-22
“For I became hungry and you gave me something to eat; I got thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you received me hospitably; naked, and you clothed me. I fell sick and you looked after me. I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous ones will answer him with the words, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty, and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and receive you hospitably, or naked, and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to you?’ And in reply the king will say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, To the extent that you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”
– Matthew 25:35-40
These are the types of things that demonstrate how far we have come in our appreciation of the plain and open teachings. And the more we spread the Father’s good will through our words and conduct, the more enemies we turn into friends, and consequently, the fewer souls to be lost in an end time adjudication. We discuss the holy acts and godly deeds in more detail in the article, Go About Doing Good.
Prophetic interpretations as they are currently presented serve to divide us in fear; whereas the plain and open teachings unite us in faith. Prophetic interpretations puff one up with self-importance; whereas the plain and open teachings build one another up in love. Prophetic interpretations emphasize calamity; whereas the plain and open teachings highlight peace. Prophetic interpretations presumptuously judge the world; whereas the plain and open teachings can save the world.
So really, what is better – presuming to know the interpretations of prophecy, or knowing the plain and open teachings of Jesus? Which one will make a positive difference in your life and the lives of others? Which one leads to your eternal salvation?
When we live our physical lives by faith in the life and ministry of Jesus and in loving service for one another, we can confidently look forward to the next step in the eternal career with the same survival faith that carried us through our first earthly adventure in sonship with God.
No, we have no idea when Jesus will fulfill his promise to return or when we will be faced with the end of an age. Jesus may appear on earth any day, and he may not come until age after age has passed. But no matter. Each one of us is destined to see him and it is of no serious concern whether we go to him or he chances first to come to us. Whatever the world conditions, we should be ever ready to welcome him on earth as he stands ready to welcome us in heaven.