The End Is Near!
Either the end of the age is near or the end of our life is near. Both end up having our eternal destiny being determined by God in a time of judgment.
We know the end of the age is near because the good news concerning Jesus Christ is being proclaimed throughout the world. Never before has there been an evangelistic effort to the world on the scale of the Christian good news. And the message is intended to save peopleís eternal lives as opposed to false religions that simply tyrannize people into submitting to some human ruler. Strangely this massive effort was predicted before Christianity ever got off the ground. Jesus predicted it in Matthew 24:14. A parallel to that was Peter quoting Joel 2:28-32, the Old Testament prophet, in Acts 2:17-21. We see Peterís intent in quoting prophecies like this in Acts 2:37-41 was to save peopleís eternal lives. Further we see the purpose of all prophecy was to lead people to Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior (Revelation 19:10) that they may be saved from Godís condemnation.
We also know the end of our life will be here before we know it if the end of the age does not come first. The Bible says in Psalm 4:14 that a manís life is just a mist thatís here today and gone tomorrow. Also the Bible says that God will ultimately judge a manís life after he dies (Hebrews 9:27).
So why should we be worried about our eternal destiny?
The Bible claims we are all sinners (Romans 3:9-18, 23). God will ultimately destroy all sinners in a lake of fire (Revelation 21:8). Those cast into the lake of fire will be tormented forever with the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41,46). Clearly, if this is true, we have much cause for concern.
What is sin?
Is eating chocolate or drinking wine a sin? Is homosexuality a sin? Is gossip a sin? Is not devoting a certain day to God a sin?
Some want to make harmless activities a sin. However, the Bible makes it clear that sins involve thoughts and actions that show a lack of worship and devotion to God or harm other people (Matthew 5:21-30, 22:37-40). In fact, the Bible tends to put much focus on actions that are harmful to other people because how we treat other people is often a reflection of how we think about God. After all man was created in Godís image and anything that harms Godís image is showing a lack of respect for or devotion to God (Genesis 9:6).
The general principle, the violation of which defines sin, is stated several ways. In the Old Testament, the principle is stated in Leviticus 19:18 as ďLove your neighbor as yourselfĒ. This principle is repeated in the New Testament (e.g. Luke 10:27, Galatians 5:14). Love does no harm to a neighbor (Romans 13:10). An expansion of the principle is found in Galatians 5:16-26 contrasting the attitudes and behavior of one without Godís spirit to one who has Godís spirit.
Letís consider the questions above in this light. Is eating chocolate or drinking wine a sin? In small amounts we know that eating chocolate and drinking wine can be beneficial. However, we also know that eating too much chocolate or drinking wine can be addictive and harmful to our bodies. So whether eating chocolate or drinking wine is a sin depends on whether we are using or abusing these things.
Does homosexuality harm anyone? When people of the same gender try to gratify their sexual desires they have to use parts of their bodies in ways they were not intended. Using their bodies in this way is often painful and spreads germs where the immune system does not function properly causing disease and sickness. Is this showing love to our neighbor by doing no harm to him or her? Also homosexual relationships interfere with the development and maintenance of a robust society that includes both genders and appreciates their differences. This cannot occur unless there is a social institution that values the commitment necessary to develop that appreciation. One man and one woman committed to each other for life is that social institution. Divorce, multiple sexual relationships, and homosexuality all undermine such a society. Thus trouble between the genders results in a general disrespect for differences among people groups, a lack of commitment to oneís word, and a lack of concern for oneís fellow human beings.
Gossip is the spreading of comments harmful to a personís reputation to others without that personís knowledge. Thus the harmed person has no chance to set the record straight or even apologize for some wrong. However, people can take action on these one-sided comments undermining a personís career, marriage, friendships, etc. Clearly gossip can harm other people.
Should we devote a certain day to God? The New Testament says some devote a day to God and some donít and that we shouldnít judge each other either way (Romans 14:5-8). In the Old Testament God commanded the Israelites to devote the Sabbath (i.e. todayís Saturday) to Him (Exodus 20:8-11, Deuteronomy 5:12-15). How do we reconcile this? We go back to our principle of devotion to God and concern for fellow human beings. Looking at the two places where the Sabbath was commanded we see that in one place (Exodus 20:8-11) the reason given for the Sabbath is a memorial of Godís work in creating everything. In the other place (Deuteronomy 5:12-15), the reason given is because the Israelites were at one time slaves in Egypt and they shouldnít overwork their servants. So we see that God gave this command to illustrate that we should take time for uninterrupted devotion to maintain and enhance our relationship with Him. And we need to take time to rest our bodies and avoid overworking each other. When we donít do this, we end up harming our relationship with God and wearing out others and ourselves by not resting. The New Testament does not command a specific day because at the time the New Testament was being written God was moving to establish relationships with other people groups and was more interested in the principle being followed than specific observances (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). So we should take inventory of ourselves concerning whether we are undermining our relationship with God and whether we are oppressing others or ourselves. If we are, we are sinning.
We could go on and on finding ways in which we all have sinned by harming others and/or not being devoted to God in what and how we conduct our lives. Have we been rude to someone else? Have we told half-truths or lies? Have we cheated our employer of even the slightest amount of work time? If so how can we claim weíre ďgood peopleĒ? Maybe what we mean is we think weíre better than most. Is ďbetter thanĒ good enough to get into heaven? Maybe we think trying to be good is good enough. Maybe we think if we have more good than bad weíre good enough.
Letís consider this for a minute. If we had a surgeon save 10 lives by his skill in surgery would we let him off if he was convicted of killing his wife? After all, he had done more good than bad and he was trying to do good most of the time. Of course not; since God is perfect in His character, He expects all who want to dwell with Him to be perfect in their character (Leviticus 19:2, Deuteronomy 18:13, Matthew 5:48). The Bible claims we must be perfect to enter the Kingdom of God (Romans 3:9-20, Galatians 3:10, James 2:10-11).
Since none of us has perfect character, we cannot be good enough to go to heaven when we die. Does that mean nobody can go to heaven? This is where Jesus Christ enters the picture (Romans 3:21-26).
Who is Jesus?
John the Baptist called Jesus "the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). In those days, lambs were often used as a substitute that was killed instead of people who had sinned. People would confess their sins before God while they laid their hands upon the head of the animal symbolically transferring their sins to the animal (Leviticus 5:5, 4:29). And then the animal would be killed and burned upon the altar as a sin or guilt offering (Leviticus 4:1-5:19). These sacrifices were a symbol of how God can forgive sinners; those who are not perfect in their character (Hebrews 4:14-16, 10:1-18). That is, animal sacrifices showed there is a concept of substitutionary atonement in Godís justice system. In other words, God will forgive sinners if they confess their sins and someone perfect is willing to die in their place; to take the punishment sinners deserve.
So who can be perfect? Jesus was perfect in His character because He is the Son of God. That is, Jesus is God in human flesh by being born of a virgin impregnated by a miracle from the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:26-35). Being both God and man, He could live a perfect life. Since people are sinful, they could not possibly bear with someone who was truly perfect in character in their midst. Just look at how we canít stand people who show us up by doing right when we donít or canít. At a certain point in Jesusí life, God allowed Jesus to be killed by people who were jealous of Him (Mark 15:9-11). By being beaten, whipped, humiliated, and ultimately crucified on a cross (John 19:1-3, 17-18), God was working through those people to punish Jesus for all the sins of humanity (Isaiah 53:5-6, Acts 2:23-24, Romans 4:25). Jesus was voluntarily allowing God to treat Him as if He was the sinner instead of sinning humanity (Romans 5:6-8). And since Jesus was voluntarily ďbecoming the sinnerĒ instead of the real sinners (2 Corinthians 5:21, Galatians 3:13), there was a time on the cross when He was separated from God since God cannot dwell with those who are imperfect in their character (Matthew 27:46). This is a mystery, but we can be sure it was sufficient to atone for all the sins of the world.
What should we do?
As discussed above, weíre not perfect which means weíre sinful in the eyes of God. The apostle John says if we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8). On the other hand, in the very next verse the apostle John also says if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). That is, if we genuinely acknowledge to Jesus our sinful state with a heartfelt sorrow and desire to change, we will be forgiven and God will work in us through the Holy Spirit to change our sinful nature (Galatians 3:1-5, Hebrews 4:14-16, Matthew 6:12-13). And note it is by confessing our sins and trusting in the sacrifice of Jesus that we are forgiven and justified before God. It is not by being good enough that we are justified. We become like Abraham who was declared righteousness because he trusted God; not because he was perfect in his character (Romans 3:21-26, 4:1-8). And the Holy Spirit will work in us to change us as evidence of God working in our lives (Ephesians 2:8-10, Acts 26:20, James 2:14-26).
To say this in a different way, there are those who think they can be good enough to be accepted by God. If this were true, God would never have needed to send his Son to die in our place. Paul points out if we rely on our ability to keep Godís standards of behavior, we will not make it. This is because if we fail one time, we are under a curse (Galatians 3:1-14). On the other hand, when we trust in the sacrifice of Jesus, God declares us righteous because of His Son Jesus taking the punishment we deserve (Romans 3:25-26). Then God sends His Holy Spirit to work in us and change our character (Galatians 3:14). This is a consequence of trusting in Jesus for salvation not the cause of our salvation. God working in us to change our character is one of the benefits of trusting in Jesusí sacrifice (Ephesians 2:8-10).
Consider John 6:28-51. This shows the futility of our works getting us into heaven. Our "work" is to simply trust in the work of Jesus on the cross. After all He is the "lamb that takes away the sins of the world". Given the sacrifice of Godís son, what more could we possibly do to gain Godís favor than trust in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross? Actually this passage shows we not only trust Jesusí sacrifice, but in Him as a person who will take care of us completely if we will trust Him. In fact, we need to take our physical and spiritual needs to Him (John 14:1, 16:23-24). Also we cannot do anything good that pleases God without Jesus helping us (John 15:5-8).
Another example to consider is a prostitute who came to see Jesus while He was eating with a Pharisee (Luke 7:36-50). Pharisees were meticulous in their attempt to keep the law of God. One would say today they were "good people". While Jesus was eating with the Pharisee, a prostitute had come in and was washing His feet with tears and wiping them with her hair. She had come to Jesus with an attitude of confession and sorrow for her sins in the hopes of Jesus forgiving her sins. Apparently she saw Jesus as the promised Messiah who would take away the sins of the world as Isaiah had predicted (Isaiah 53:1-12) and John the Baptist had declared (John 1:29). Because this woman had faith in Jesus as the one who could forgive her sins, He declared her forgiven and saved (Luke 7:48,50). And Jesus specifically stated that her faith in Him had saved her. She had no good deeds to offer God as any reason to be forgiven and saved from eternal death. Also Jesus declared her saved and yet we have no idea what the rest of her life was like. We can be sure that she had turned away from her former life given her remorse over it, but, being human, we can also be sure she didnít all-of-a-sudden have perfect character either. Faith in Jesus was all she needed to be forgiven, justified, and blessed.
Why should we believe all this?
Some say the New Testament was written in the fourth century allowing for a lot of time to pass in which Christian myths were developed. Or they say the New Testament was written as a "religious conspiracy". While it is true the earliest vellum manuscripts can be dated to the fourth century, it leaves out the fact that papyri fragments of the New Testament can be dated as far back as the end of the first century. And there is a fragment of the book of Matthew that can be controversially dated before the destruction of the Jewish temple in 70 AD. Further, writings of early Christians (e.g. Papias, the Didache, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, etc) can be dated to a decade or two after 70 AD and to the middle of the second century. If one were to combine the quotes from the New Testament from all the writings of early Christians, one would have the entire New Testament minus a few verses. Further if one looks at some quotes from the New Testament like 1 Corinthians 15:1-3, one can see the writer, Paul the apostle, was still in the company of living eyewitnesses to Jesusí resurrection. Thus there was not enough time for myths to develop.
Another accusation leveled against Christianity is that it is filled with hucksters that want to make a buck and are willing to say anything to make people feel good to get it. While this is true of a lot of ministries today and a number of them cropped up in the time of the apostles (2 Corinthians 2:17, 4:2), it does not change the fact the original eyewitnesses of Jesusí resurrection and true followers down through the ages have sincerely believed and acted upon those beliefs. For example, Paul would not take money from certain church congregations because he wanted them to know he was not preaching to make money and that he was not lying when he told them about the meaning of Jesusí death and resurrection (1 Corinthians 9:11-15, 2 Corinthians 11:7-12). Also he was willing to take all kinds of physical abuse (e.g. flogged, beatings, put in prison, etc) to continue spreading the message (2 Corinthians 11:23-31). Paul asserts in the most emphatic terms he was not lying when he told people of his actually seeing the resurrected Jesus. When Paul checked his teaching with the other apostles, it agreed with theirs even though they had not taught him. For some period after Jesusí death, Paul had persecuted Christians and had no interest in learning the details of their teaching. He had devoted his life at that time to learning the tenants of traditional Pharisaical Judaism. This is tangible evidence backing his claim that he received his teaching from the resurrected Jesus.
Even though the authorities had commanded them to stop, the apostles Peter and John were beaten for continuing to tell about the resurrected Jesus and the forgiveness of sins for those who turn to Him (Acts 5:27-41)). They both stated they had seen the miracles and resurrection of Jesus (Acts 5:32). In one of his letters, Peter said they had not made up stories (2 Peter 1:16-18). In fact, early church history says Peter was crucified upside down for refusing to turn away from what he believed. John claims they had seen Jesus, his miracles, and his resurrection with their own eyes and had touched Him even after His resurrection (1 John 1:1-4). Also Peter points out the Jews and the Gentiles he had evangelized had themselves witnessed Jesusí miracles (Acts 2:22, 10:36-38). And Paul points out at the time of writing the 1st letter to the Corinthians the majority of 500 eyewitnesses to Jesusí resurrection were still living (1 Corinthians 15:6).
Others besides the apostles also spread the message to places that were outside their culture. In Acts 8:4-8 Philip went to the hated Samaritans even though he was Jewish. Itís hard to believe people would expose themselves to threats, beatings, poverty, and rejection if they hadnít really seen Jesusí miracles and resurrection for themselves. We see this phenomenon today in many common people being so profoundly changed by their belief in Jesus, based upon the witness in the New Testament, they to go to the highways and byways spreading the gospel message to save peopleís souls. And by the way the early Christians did not, and true Christians today do not, go to war or use acts of terror to evangelize people. It is up to the evangelized person to make his or her own choice (Acts 2:40-41). To be so transformed as to devote oneself to opportunities to evangelize is nothing short of a miracle in a society where people are consumed with themselves.
With so many sincere witnesses to Jesusí miracles and resurrection, it is inconceivable the eyewitness testimony about Him is made up or inaccurate.
A Final Word
Turn to the resurrected Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Confess your sins to Jesus, trust in His death on the cross in your place, and pray to Him to work in you to follow Him. He will then forgive you and send His Holy Spirit to indwell you to teach, encourage, guide, strengthen, and help change your character so you can begin to reflect His character to others. That way they will see a miracle taking place in your life; the miracle of God saving us (2 Corinthians 3:18, 5:17-20). Seek to get to know Jesus by trying to read a Bible and find a church that believes you are saved by trusting in Jesus alone, not in your efforts in trying to earn your salvation, and believes those who follow Him will want to live for Him. This change in your character will give you personal evidence of the miracle of being born again as a new creation. A good place to start reading a Bible would be to look up these scriptures to be sure they are quoted accurately.
Religious activity (e.g. keeping certain days, a spotless church attendance record, learning Christian lingo, etc) is not, in itself, what is pleasing to God. Instead, because of the miracle of being born again, those who trust in Jesus will be in the process of putting away behaviors and thoughts that harm others and develop their devotion to God. Seeing the miracle of regeneration working out in our lives gives us increasing assurance we are destined to live with Him forever. This is because we see the increasing distance between our previous and current lifestyles and knowing we couldnít have done it without Godís Spirit working in us. Also when we fail, we canít give up. We must go to Jesus seeking forgiveness and His help in sticking to the Christian faith. This is one reason itís important to find a church as described above; so people can be used by God to encourage one another to persevere in the Christian faith. Only those who preserve and endure in the Christian faith (i.e. continue in their relationship with Jesus and donít turn away from it) will go to heaven. Persevering to the end demonstrates Godís Spirit was working within us and that our conversion was not false (Matthew 24:13, 10:22; Galatians 6:9; Hebrews 12:1-3; 2 Peter 2:20-22).