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Maranatha and Keep Looking Busy
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Friday, May 30, 2014
Alf Cengia

One of the happiest, providential moments that happened to me after I left my New Age life behind was finding a great Christian Book Store. It had an extensive selection of Biblical commentaries, apologetics works and books on eschatology. It often seemed as if a particular book appeared on the shelves just when I needed to read it.

I can remember the Saturday afternoon I saw J. Dwight Pentecost's Things To Come sitting there on the shelf, asking me to buy it. Because it was imported from America and this was an Australian store, the price tag was relatively hefty. But after a perusal of its pages, I knew it was well worth the cost. I spent the rest of that Saturday buried in that book.

The term "things to come" is found in several instances in Scripture and inspired the title of Dr. Pentecost's book. The amount of times it appears depends on the translation one uses. The New King James notes ten memorable verses: Deut. 32:35; Isa. 41:22; Isa. 45:11; Jn. 16:13; Rom. 8:38; 1 Co. 3:22; Col. 2:17; Heb. 9:11; Heb. 10:1 and Heb. 11:20.

One of them is an all-time favorite of mine:

For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:38-39)

Dr. Pentecost (affectionately known as Dr. P) went to be with the Lord on April 28 this year. He died four days after turning ninety nine years old. His memorial service can still be viewed on the Dallas Theological Seminary website.

I highly recommend watching that video to get an idea of the caliber of the man. Especially touching, inspiring, and revealing of Dr. P's commitment to Christ, is the tribute paid to him by Dana Barber.

On the Dallas Theological Seminary website one can find several sermons by Dr. Pentecost. One of my favorites is Maranatha. As the introduction states, Dr. P speaks on how we should be living in light of Christ's imminent return.

He recalled how he was given a little apartment at DTS and that President Dr. Mark Bailey promised to call in on him now and then. Dr. Bailey told him, "I'm coming, I promise you."

That statement apparently "revolutionized" Dr. P's life. From then on he took to a stringent routine of keeping his apartment in immaculate condition in anticipation of the any-moment visit from the DTS president.

The point of Dr. P's sermon is obviously aimed at reflecting how we, as Christians, should be living our lives in expectation of the any-moment coming of Jesus Christ for His church.

Sadly, the imminent coming of Christ has sustained a number of attacks by non-pretribulationists. These attacks often consist of questioning the pretribulationists' motives. They're often accused of being "escapists" or "easy believers."

Rightly or wrongly, I've adopted some tongue-in-cheek sarcasm to these charges.

If you want to be a super-saint who rejoices in tribulation, go picket the Iranian jail where they torture Pastor Saeed. Go preach the gospel to the Islamists. After all, there's a possibility that you'll die before The Tribulation and lose your opportunity for that Crown of Martyrdom. Moreover, you won't be concerned that Jesus may come suddenly and catch you napping because He can't come today - right? (Mat 24:36-39, 42, 44, 50, 25:13).

I've read some ingenious arguments against imminence. In response to Gerald Stanton's Kept from the Hour people like Robert Gundry and Doug Eigsti have expended a lot of energy arguing that certain events need to occur before Jesus returns. Their catch phrase is "expectancy rather than imminence."

Space won't permit turning this column into a detailed defense of imminence, yet some things may be noted. Jesus couldn't have returned five minutes after He ascended to heaven - Pentecost still had to happen. But that doesn't invalidate an imminent rapture.

The Lord gave Israel various signs of His return and He also stipulated that it had to ask Him to come back (Matt 23:39). We're told that there is a surprise coming involving a time of peace (1 Thess 5:2-6) yet also one which follows calamity (Matt 24: 21; Rev 19:11). All this is contrary to a plain understanding of Mark 13:34-37. Neither Eigsti nor Gundry explore these apparent contradictions in their zeal to defend "expectancy" at the expense of imminence.

If I plan a trip to Australia and tell my wife to expect my return at any moment, she would understand that I can't return until at least after I arrive at my destination. But my return will be more imminent the longer I tarry.

When I tell her the lights in our house will blink on and off repetitively some time before I come, or if I make my return contingent on her asking me to, then Mark 13: 34-37 cannot apply. If I tell her she won't know what time, because it is a time she won't expect, then it does. All the examples cannot be true of the same coming.

As an interesting aside, Eigsti employs several anti-imminence arguments used by prewrath proponents. It's an irony to me that this view teaches several comings of Jesus while asserting that all rapture and Second Coming texts point to a single Advent of Christ. How can that be?

Following Dr. P's Maranatha sermon, I stumbled across Alistair Begg's understanding of Mark 13. He treats it as A Wake-Up Call. Pastor Begg is no pretribulationist, and he has some sober advice for us all. His eschatology is not an overtly developed one and pretribbers will amicably disagree in areas. However, it is crucial to note what he says:

"Jesus tells His disciples that no one knows when His return will be - even He does not know! What then is the purpose of prophecy in the Bible? Knowing that our Lord will certainly return, but not knowing when, motivates us to obey His command, "Stay awake."' (Emphasis mine)

People like Alfred Edersheim and Robert Murray M'Cheyne saw imminence in Scripture and recognized its importance. Edersheim wrote that it was vital for the church's endurance and faith to have that "peculiar attitude" that the Lord could come at any moment. Likewise M'Cheyne appealed to Mark 13 as he admonished his congregation to watch - telling them that the Lord is coming back, and could do so suddenly.

I don't have any special biblical insights to offer. Even so, I suspect that during the 19th century God awakened modern Jeremiahs who began taking prophecy seriously. They read Scripture and saw a future modern Israel on the biblical horizon. They did not conspire to bring it to pass and neither did they coerce the world to hate Israel. Yet it happened.

Similarly, they've been warning of Christ's imminent return and the subsequent judgments on this world.

Dr. Pentecost has gone to be with the Lord, and so have many other Watchmen before him. Could it be that God is slowly withdrawing His special verbal warning? The Lord might return sooner than many scoffers imagine. Hence, the continual warning to watch.

What are we all doing about it? This is an area where I am found wanting.

How about you?

About Alf Cengia

Last week: On Satire, Prejudice & Intolerance



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