Studying the Bible has led me and many others to the realization that certain events that modern-day disciples are hoping will happen in their lifetime, if not in the future, actually took place in the generation of those who first adopted the name, Christian. This is important. From Matthew onward, we can read of an imminent threat to the nation of Israel. “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” Matthew 3:2. “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” Matthew 3:7. With these words, John beckoned the Nation to return to God and place their hopes in the “lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” John 1:29. This Jesus took up the torch of John’s message, speaking in parables of the coming kingdom of God. In this kingdom, there were to be no marriages. Matthew 22:30 Life was eternal. 2 Timothy 1:10 Supper would be with Abraham and the prophets; people who had already died. Matthew 8:11 For all practical purposes his kingship was “not of this world” as Jesus put it. John 18:36
The congregations that were established, those who had answered the message of the Apostles to repent and prepare for judgment, sought to live each day to the fullest, “making the most of the time for the days are (were) evil.” Ephesians 5:16. Everything written by the notable Apostles like Paul, Peter, John, and James pointed to an end to that careless and doubting generation and a rich reward to those who sought to be “saved from the wrath to come.” Romans 5:9, and 1 Thessalonians 2:16. Peter said, “The end of all things is near.” 1 Peter 4:7 James said, “You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” James 5:8 Paul added, “For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you?” 1 Thessalonians 2:19. These phrases indicate the expectations of these inspired men. They all believed, even to death that Jesus was returning with exit plans for those who had suffered for his sake, who had chosen him over the lusts of the world and the boast for keeping the law.
There was to be a fulfillment of Daniel’s visions. The one like a son of man was to be presented to the ancient of days. Peter confessed that he was one of the eyewitnesses to this majestic fulfillment. He recalled, “For when he received honor and glory from God the Father and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we heard this voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 And we have the prophetic word made more sure.” 2 Peter 1:17 Compare this vision with Daniel’s vision in Chapter 7 and of course, we know of its ultimate fulfillment as Jesus inherited all things by the end of the Roman siege against Jerusalem; including the kingdom of the world (Revelation 11:15).
And what can be said about the lack of comments from any NT writer concerning the destruction of everything Jewish at the hands of the Romans? This “end of the age” came in 70 AD. Yet, no parchment penned by an Apostle or even a modest disciple describes the nature of the utter and complete annihilation of the nation. Not one stone stood upon another at the temple site. The city became for centuries an utter wasteland. Yet, what we do read of Paul and Peter and James and Jude had everything to do with this coming judgment from God on his own rebellious people.
What happened to the churches? They received the inheritance. (Not us). They either died before the “end” or they were caught up to be with the Lord… in that “twinkling of an eye.” 1 Corinthians 15:52 God through Christ had kept his word to Eve. Her son had crushed the ancient serpent’s head. Romans 16:20 After all, this is why the son of God had come, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage.” Hebrews 2:14 (Why is it that disciples still fret over the adversary today? How is it that no one has seen the devil lately, or angels, demons, prophets, miracles? Could it be that everything has been restored, i.e., fulfilled?)
Consider the meaning of many passages of inspiration that were directed to the churches of that first century.
1 Thessalonians 1:9-10
9 For they themselves report concerning us what a welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
Here Paul writes to the Thessalonian Christians and commends their new life in Christ. They had turned from idols to serve God and TO WAIT FOR HIS SON FROM HEAVEN, Jesus who would deliver them from the wrath to come. You see, these people were waiting for the return of Christ who was to save them from the war of the Jews with Rome and the Judgment of God. He was going to change their lowly body to be immortal.
Paul said the same thing to the Philippians in regards to the form this salvation would take.
3:20 But our commonwealth is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power which enables him even to subject all things to himself.
And for this reason, to this end, they were to stand firm (1Thess 4:1). Their love for one another sealed their solidarity and hope that they would endure until the coming of the Lord (1 Thess 3:11-13). They were promised that on that day, the dead would rise first to meet Christ. Those still living would be changed; caught up to heaven with the resurrected dead and remain with Christ forever (1 Thess. 4:13-18). So close was this meeting with the Lord that they were not to “sleep” but to keep awake and remain sober. They were to obtain salvation through Christ. Whether they died before this day or remained “awake” their promise was to be with him. The exhortations were for immediate application to their new way of life. (1 Thess. 4:6-11). Paul prayed for their body, soul and spirit to be kept blameless until the coming of Christ (1 Thess. 4:23). The event was the climax to their Christian living.
Hear what Paul understood to be the pinnacle of the church’s hope.
2 Thess 1: 5 This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be made worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering— 6 since indeed God deems it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to grant rest with us to you who are afflicted, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, 8 inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at in all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. 11 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his call, and may fulfill every good resolve and work of faith by his power, 12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The “return” of Christ was their rest from troubles, and His glory in his saints, and the punishment upon the godless and the marvel in Christ’s revelation in this glory, power, and judgment.
Paul extended to them the order of events a second time in his second letter to the Thessalonians in Chapter 2. “Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling to meet him.” The details of his narrative can be read there. But clearly, the church was heading for an end game.
Was the church to remain on earth forever? Consider Paul’s comment to Timothy: “14 I charge you to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ; 15 and this will be made manifest at the proper time by the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.” Timothy was to keep this charge; “keep the command unstained … until the appearing of our Lord…” 1 Timothy 6. Paul saw the return of Christ as the event to culminate the age and this would end Timothy’s charge from Paul. The end would come for the Old Covenant age but it appears repeatedly in the scripture that the churches were headed for an event which would end (fulfill) the earthly existence of those who were waiting for it.
To the churches in the dispersion, Peter wrote to remind them of their calling. The new birth of the members of the assemblies of Christ was made possible by the mercy of God through Christ. It gave the disciples a living hope and an inheritance which was kept in heaven for them 1 Peter 1:3-8. It was to be made known at the last time, v.5. The outcome of their faith was to be known and seen and experienced at the appearing of Christ at the last of time. They were heaven bound no matter whether alive or dead, Christ’s coming was the advent for all these things. It was they who had been chosen to be the royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people for the purpose of declaring his deeds of mercy and grace 1 Peter 2:9-10. Their calling was not just out of the world of disobedience but into the His eternal glory 1 Peter 5:10. Their zeal was targeted for their entrance into the heavenly kingdom of God 2 Peter 1: 10-11. These early disciples understood that all things Jewish would be dissolved and that they by living holy lives could hasten the coming day of God when these things were removed. They were promised new heaven and earth where righteousness dwelt. 2 Peter3:11-13.
These assemblies were taught consistently that they were heading for a super-natural event in which all believers would be gathered to God on that last day before that new order for heaven and earth began. They lived and they died for this hope of eternal salvation. They were to reign with Christ, to judge the world and to decide between angels 1 Corinthians 4:8, 1 Corinthians 6:2, 1 Corinthians 6:3. The Revelation ends with the saints reigning in heaven forever and ever Rev 22:5.
The whole of the argument is straightforward. The church, like the church of Moses, was to wander for a generation; 40 years, before the Lord himself brought them into the Promised Land. Through tribulation and strife and chastisement and reward the early disciples hung to this promise looking for the revealing of the sons of God by which these would enter immortality Romans 8: 18-25.
What would one expect if indeed, as it is written, the church met the Lord, received its inheritance, entered into glory and now reigns in the heavenly places rather than angelic beings? What would we gather from history if the church exited this world according to the plain reading of scriptures? We would expect that the authorized Christian church would vanish, and it has. There are no apostolic churches that exist today. None have miraculous evidence of their valid association with the churches of God of the first century.
Furthermore, any church today that claims such a position surely would NOT invoke sacrifices, or priesthood, or the trappings of Judaism which died along with the temple. Yet the churches that say they are of Christ have gone far beyond the things that were written. The ancient order of Roman Catholicism and Greek orthodoxy have long departed from the simple assemblies of the first church. Incense, iconography, holy waters, changes in baptism, candles, robes, and every sort of foul evil have sprung up in these and a thousand other unauthorized church organizations.
Somehow a church arose out of the ruins of Judaism. Called the church of Christ or the church of God, these organizations, by the time they recovered from the destruction of the Middle East, were nothing the followers of Jesus knew and understood. This church, post 70, had power, authority, priests, sacrifices, incense, holy water, robes, liturgy, Archbishops and did not seek to help the poor as much as having the poor obey their authority. How very counter to the principles of Christ let alone to the simplicity of First-Day Suppers?
Something is very wrong with the way most read the Bible and even far more incorrect in what is taught about what the Bible says. Hermeneutics flip at portions of the Bible that do not congeal or concede to church doctrines. Why? Churches believe they are the kingdom of God. Though nothing to this effect can be proven from the Bible itself, this convenient myth essentially steals from God the authority to direct human life but in ways God had never intended. Things like foods, marriage, children, family, worship, money, and even more so the afterlife were to be construed in the context of some priestly orders to carry out missions and behaviors and miseries that God himself never intended to be part of the human experience. And their most powerful means of controlling other men? – sin. Keep sin alive and honest people will drink the cool aid hoping to get “saved” today.
And from such churches have all the Christian sects arisen. Most claiming some right to exist through some twisted logic and aberrant comprehension of the scriptures. If, in fact, the end came and the Lord descended and rescued his followers, completing his mission in fulfillment of Daniel’s vision, then it is over and the “age to come” is upon us. Consider what Christ was to accomplish: “Seventy weeks of years are decreed concerning your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place.” Did he do it? Did he?
What we see is a gathering of followers over a 40 year period as they wandered in a hostile world of sin and depravity, waiting for the appearing of their savior from heaven. These assembled people prepared their lives to meet Christ and exit this land to a far better country, a heavenly one. They were to rule with Christ, judge the world and angels and remain with him forever. There is no church that can with any proof, claim themselves to be a church that God ordained. The meaning of the scriptures is much clearer on this topic than many other topics.