Posted in Daniel

The First Sixty-nine ‘Sevens’

“Seventy ‘sevens’ are decreed for your people and your holy city…“Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens’…After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing.” Daniel 9:24-26

 One of the most remarkable prophecies of the Old Testament is found in Daniel 9:24-27.  The seventy years of captivity in Babylon are finished, so Daniel is praying for the deliverance from their exile when the angel Gabriel appears to him and gives the message above.  After telling about the first 69 ‘sevens’ he describes the 70th ‘seven’ but makes it clear that there will be a gap – Messiah will be “put to death and have nothing” after the 69 ‘sevens,’ but before the 70th seven.  The seven ‘sevens’ and the sixty-two ‘sevens’ are consecutive and are only split up so Daniel will know how long it will take to restore and rebuild the Jerusalem – 49 years (seven ‘sevens’).  The 62 ‘sevens’ or 434 years immediately follow the 49 after which Messiah will be put to death and have nothing.  Forty-nine and 434 equals 483 years – not solar years which we use today, but the 360 day lunar years they used then.

 We find the decree Gabriel references in the book of Nehemiah.  Nehemiah is the Persian king Artaxerxes’ cupbearer and he is sad because “the city, the place of my father’s tombs, lies desolate and its gates have been consumed by fire.” (2:3)  So in Artaxerxes 20th year, in the month of Nisan (April), a decree is made to rebuild the city. (2:1-9)

 Artaxerxes began his reign in 465 BC (Encyclopedia Britannica), so his 20th year would be 445 BC according to our calendar (444 BC because Daniel used accessional dating to count his reign).  To convert from lunar to solar we begin by figuring out how many days there are in 483 lunar years: 483 times 360 equals 173,880 days.  Then we divide 173,880 by 365.242 (the days in a solar year) to determine the number of solar years so we can get a date that corresponds to our dates in history – it comes to 476 solar years.  So when we start the prophetic clock in 444 BC and  begin with the first 444 years we come to 1 AD because there is no year “0”. (The year after 1 BC is 1 AD)  That leaves 32 (476 minus 444 equals 32) years which when added to 1 AD brings us to 33 AD.  The Messiah would die after the 69 sevens – the time most scholars give for Jesus’ death is Passover of 33 AD.

Posted in 2Corinthians, Daniel, Jeremiah, Luke, Mark, Matthew

Two Events of Judgment

“Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.  But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.  For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah.”  Matthew 24:34-37

 I have come to believe that Jesus is describing two events of judgment in His discourse on the future (Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 17 and 21) and that they are very different to prepare for.

One event, the destruction of Jerusalem, will happen in their lifetime, or their “generation.”  It is a time of God’s wrath on the Jewish people for rejecting Christ (Luke 21:22-24); it will feature an abomination of desolation being set up in the holy place (Matthew 24:15); and  it will be horrible but “cut short,” otherwise all of the Jewish elect would be wiped out.

  The rescue for the church at this time is to flee Jerusalem when you see these things happening.  “All these things” were to be expected within their generation and they would be as visible as a fig tree budding indicating that summer is near.  There will be a fulfillment of  “all that is written” (Luke 21:22), a reference to Daniel’s seventieth ‘seven’ (Daniel 9:27), and Jeremiah’s allusion to a time of Jacob’s trouble. (Jeremiah 30:7)

   The second event Jesus describes is not just in Judea, it’s world-wide (Luke 21:35); Jesus doesn’t know when it’s going to happen; the elect don’t have to flee, they are taken; and there are no signs to prepare for it, so people have to live ready.  This coming event is not a judgment on the Jews for rejecting Christ (that already happened in the destruction of Jerusalem), but on the Gentiles who have rejected Christ. (Luke 21:24) 

 By the end of their generation this second judgment will be imminent, or “at the door,” (Matthew 24:33-34) because it will occur immediately after Jesus appears in the clouds.  We are now living between the first and second judgment events in a time of God’s favor. (2Corinthians 6:2)  This is the time to respond to God’s salvation!

Posted in 2Timothy, Revelation, Romans

The Puzzle of the End Times

“Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy and all who listen to its message and obey what it says, for the time is near.”  Revelation 1:3

The God who helps us with our smallest problems is the Ruler over history.  History will one day be seen to be His story, and knowing that brings a blessing to our lives especially at times when they seem pointless or chaotic.  John wrote Revelation from Patmos, an island prison where the emperor, Domitian, had sent him because of “the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” (Revelation 1:9)  As God revealed His bigger plan, we can imagine John’s comfort in the soon coming of the Lord and the assurance of His ultimate victory.

The evil and darkness of this world will be short lived.  As surely as Jesus came the first time to save us from our sins, He will come a second time to secure His bride, judge the world, and set up His kingdom. (2Timothy 4:1)  Just how these events will unfold is unclear.  There are many pieces to the end times’ puzzle and no one but God knows exactly how they fit together, yet John tells us in the text above that there’s a blessing in just contemplating the mystery.  What exactly is the blessing?  I believe it’s more of the fear of the Lord.  Let me explain.

Paul tells us to “behold both the kindness and severity of God” in Romans 11:22.  Our tendency is to only behold His kindness because it’s pleasant, but it’s in beholding His severity that we grow in the fear of the Lord and stay in a place where we will only experience His kindness.  The end of Romans 11:22 goes like this: “…to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.”  Jesus wants nothing for us but kindness, but to ensure that blessing, we must have the courage to behold His severity.  When someone warns me of danger I feel love, not offense. 

 Jesus came the first time as a Lamb to save the world; He’s coming a second time as a Lion to judge it.   At that time it won’t matter how close our theology about the end times matches what actually happens, but only that we are in a right relationship with God.  May God engage both your mind and heart as you join me in contemplating the end times’ puzzle over the next few days.

Posted in Ephesians, Luke, Romans

The Generosity of God

“Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?” Romans 8:32

Any sense of entitlement in us will undermine our faith. God never gives to us because He has to; He gives because He wants to. The gospel starts by revealing to us that God owes us nothing but hell because of our sins, and then proceeds to show us His kind intention of adopting us as His sons and daughters. (Ephesians 1:4-6)

I was speaking in Uganda about entitlement and told a story where God revealed to me that I had been waiting for an apology from Him. I felt I had been mistreated just like Job and the older brother did (Luke 15:26-31), and that attitude was keeping me from experiencing the generosity of God.

After I was done speaking a woman found me and said I had to talk with her friend, Annette. Annette was laying on a mat on the floor of the church and was unable to get up because of crippling pain in her back. Through an interpreter, Annette told me that God spoke to her through the message. She had experienced a number of setbacks and had been angry with God. Now she was free because God showed her she needed to let go of her bad attitude.

I felt in my heart that God now wanted to heal her body, so I asked if I could pray for her back. After a brief prayer, I told her to move her back around and eventually told her to stand up. As she did, tears started to pour down her face.

“Ask her why she’s crying,” I said to the interpreter.

The answer was what I was hoping: “She says God is healing her back.”

Before my next teaching, she came to the front with the joy of the Lord on her face and gave testimony to what God had done in her heart and then in her body. Everyone then rejoiced in the generosity of God.

Sometimes we become focused on the outward miracle we need while having the wrong attitude in our heart. Do you feel God owes you something because of your obedience, sacrifice, or prayers? Why not lay down your disappointment, acknowledge that God is not in your debt, and focus on His generosity?

“He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all – how will He not, also along with Him, graciously give us all things” (Romans 8:32)

Posted in 2Corinthians, John, Luke

The Joy Serving

“Now that you know these things, you will be blessed (happy, joy-filled) if you do them.” John 13:17

When people arrived at a feast in that time, it was customary for a slave to wash everyone’s feet as they entered, but in all the preparations for the last supper the disciples had missed this detail. Each of them apparently felt that this job was below them, so it appeared it would go undone. Then the unthinkable happened. One far above them went lower than they were willing to go. Not only did Jesus wash their feet, He called them to wash each other’s feet (willingly serve each other), and in the text above said this was the key to their happiness.

He explained that this attitude was also the key to their greatness: “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like one who serves.” (Luke 22:25-26)

Our level of joy is not to be a victim of our own sense of entitlement. In other words, we don’t have to wait until we are treated in a certain way to have joy. Our joy can be found in God’s delight in us regardless of how other people are treating us. I found out this truth the hard way while pastoring in northern Minnesota.

A group of thirty wanted me out of the church and had started a secret campaign of visiting members in their homes to try to get the necessary votes to remove me. God was moving in the congregation and so was the enemy. There was a deacon who represented the thirty, but whenever I tried to meet with them it got postponed. It finally occurred to me that they didn’t want to be reconciled, they wanted me gone. This was their church and they weren’t going to leave, so I would have to.

How do you pastor a church Sunday after Sunday when this is happening? The Lord made it clear that they didn’t have to like or respect me, for me to serve them. I wasn’t to defend myself or be offended by their attitudes.  I was to serve them for His sake. (2Corinthians 4:5) His affirmation was better than theirs anyway!

Emptying ourselves, rolling up our sleeves, and serving whoever God puts in front of us is the key to lasting joy.

Posted in Colossians, Isaiah, John, Philippians

Are You Willing?  

“If you are willing and obedient you will eat the best from the land.” Isaiah 1:19

A minister in the 1950’s was complaining to God saying, “God, you said if I was willing and obedient, I would eat the best of the land and I’ve been obedient.”

He had been a pastor when God told him to start traveling because he wasn’t really a pastor, he was a prophet and a teacher. Even though it was difficult to leave the security of a pastorate, he obeyed God. The problem was that he wasn’t making it. His shoes were worn out, his wife and kids were barely surviving, and there was constant financial pressure on his home. All this when he had only obeyed God and stepped out in faith.

The Lord answered this man with a whisper: “You’ve been obedient, but you haven’t been willing.” When he told this story, he said that he instantly became willing in response to God’s prompting, and it started to change everything in his life.

Did you know you can be obedient and not be willing? You can do the will of God and carry out your responsibilities as “have tos,” but that’s not good enough for God. He only releases His full blessing over us when we “want to.” It’s not enough for Him that we serve Him; He wants us to be happy about it.

The sweet Spirit of God was given so we would have both power to God’s will as well as the “want to.” Philippians 2:13 says, “It is God who works in you to will (the want to) and to act (the power to do) according to His good purpose.”

The way we change all of the “have tos,” in our lives into “want tos,” is by embracing the cross and doing them for God instead of for man. Jesus said that no one took His life from Him; “I lay it down of my own accord.” (John 10:18). You and I have the choice of resenting our “have tos,” or of making them “want tos,” by doing them for God.

How we do what we do changes everything and puts us in the place of God’s full blessing. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (Colossians 3:23-24).

Posted in Matthew

A Tale of Two Cities – Part Two

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Matthew 7:13-14

Many began on the narrow path the king’s son had made but then became discontent. Some began to doubt if this was really the right path because they were sure that the right path would be easy, yet the son’s path had many turns in it as well as high mountains and dangerous valleys.

Others didn’t like the humility required to stay on the son’s path. They wanted to make their own way and have their own following. Many set out on their own and took others with them often with promises of pleasure and wealth people could have “right here” in Worldly Values. 

Some resented the king, and his son for making only one path and one bridge over the chasm of fire. Why couldn’t he make more bridges? Why shouldn’t all paths lead to Eternal Joy? These people accused those on the path of arrogance and self-righteousness. “Who do you think you are,” they would angrily yell, “to maintain your path is the only right one?”

Some began to shoot at those on the path, while others made laws which made it illegal to encourage anyone new to get on the path. A new religion formed which said there was only one sin and that was the sin of intolerance, therefore every path was to be tolerated except the son’s path because of its claim to be the only way to the city of Eternal Joy.

Yet even in this climate of hostility, more and more were drawn to the path and willingly gave up their pride to embrace the son’s way. The more they were shot at, mocked, or ignored, the more joyous and confident they seemed to become. No one stayed on the path perfectly, yet those who had walked on it for a long time seemed to instinctively know when they were off the path and quickly returned to it. 

The king’s son gave them writings and inspired songs from Eternal Joy that became well known to those on the path. The more these writings were proclaimed, and the more these songs were sung, the brighter the path became. In fact, one of the songs had a verse that went something like this: “Oh how bright the path grows from day to day, leaning on the everlasting arms.”

Posted in Hebrews

A Tale of Two Cities – Part One

“For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had the opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.” Hebrews 11:14-16

Once upon a time there was a city called “Worldly Values” where people were born and lived until the time came when they died and were thrown off the precipice. It was a beautiful and exciting city with many pleasures, especially for those who were young. You see, everyone born in this city started on one side and were forced to move their tents across the city year by year, until they were near the precipice that overlooked the chasm of fire.

The rules of the city prevented anyone from moving their tent away from the precipice. You could look back, but you could never move back, which was why so many took pictures. Pictures helped them remember the early days when the city gave great promises of abundant life. The pictures also helped to keep their minds off of the precipice they were constantly moving toward.

There’s another city called, “Eternal Joy,” rumored to be on the other side of the chasm. I say rumored because there is a great fog which lies over the chasm of fire so it’s usually impossible to see over to the other side. A few have had glimpses through the centuries, however, and have reported seeing a city of pure gold where everyone lives forever.

The clearest testimony of this city came years ago when the king of Eternal Joy had a son born in the city of Worldly Values. This son made a path during his brief life which he said would lead anyone who chose it to the city of Eternal Joy. When he was pushed off the precipice after his tragic death, it is rumored that he rose again, and then built a bridge from Worldly Values, over the chasm of fire, into Eternal Joy.

Some are sure that people who take this path never have to die. They don’t have to live looking back like the rest do, because the best for them is yet to come.

Whenever someone chooses to stay on this path, they never really fit into the society of Worldly Values again. It’s as if they’re citizens of Eternal Joy before even arriving in the city.

Posted in Malachi, Revelation

No Compromise

“Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, because the time is near. Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy.” Revelation 22:10-11

Why is God telling those who do wrong to continue to do wrong? Shouldn’t He tell them to repent? He’s not writing to those who are in the world in this book, but to “His servants” (Revelation 1:1) who are living in a culture of compromise and will be tempted to backslide.

The message of this passage could be paraphrased like this: “Don’t plan on the people around you changing – they might not. Instead, make sure you don’t change and give in to the culture of compromise around you. Be separate in your desire and make sure the pursuit of your life is different from the worldly people around you.”

This text is from the last chapter of the New Testament and is amazingly close to another passage in the last book of the Old Testament. “‘They will be mine’, says the Lord Almighty, ‘on the day when I make up My treasure possession. I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him. And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who don’t.’” (Malachi 3:17-18)

Whatever else you do, choose to live holy before the God who saved you and before the generation around you. Make sure you don’t just believe differently, but actually live differently. Anything less is deception.

Posted in Galatians, Luke

Who Inherits?

“Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.” Galatians 4:30

You cannot earn as a reward what is yours by inheritance, so when we go back to performing for God, the benefits of grace dry up. The Old Covenant, the slave woman, only blesses those who keep the law. Because no one can keep the law, all of her children become slaves of the fear and guilt which come from never being good enough.

Paul is stunned that the Galatians are allowing anyone to seduce them back into a performance identity because the fruit is so bad. “You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you… are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?… Does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by the hearing of faith?” (Galatians 3:1-4)

In Luke 15 Jesus tells us about the older brother who becomes angry at the Father’s generosity toward the prodigal: “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.” Listen to the Father’s response, not just to the older brother, but to all His children who are living like slaves in His house: “My son, you are always with me and everything I have is yours.”

Did you know that in Christ you have an abundant inheritance as a favored child of God? “Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ (you are always with me) So you are no longer a slave but a son; since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” (and everything I have is yours) (Galatians 4:7)

“So why don’t I feel like an heir?” you may ask. Maybe it’s because you haven’t once and for all put away the performance identity. Maybe you’ve been seduced in your heart and are still trying to perform for God’s approval instead of accepting it by faith. It’s time to take decisive action and “get rid of the slave woman and her son!”

I am so ready to walk in favored son status instead of being a slave to performance. How about you?