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July 27, 2016
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July 27, 2016
Dispensationalism, William M. Branham And Seven Church Ages, Church Lost In And Divided By So Much Doctrinal Confusion, Doctrinal And Spiritual Unity, Futurist Perspective And The Claim Of Christ's Future Return, Why I Was Forced To Change My Theological Perspective, Faith In God's Word And Not Just In The Teacher, Some Verses Challenged My Futurist Beliefs, My Evolving Theology, Willingness To Change Our Erroneous Beliefs, God's Method Of Simultaneously Revealing The Truth To Different People, Jesus Promised To Return And Set Up His Kingdom During The Apostles' Lifetimes, Romans Would Witness Christ's Return, Peter And Apostles Preached That The First Century Was The Last Days, Prophet Joel's Last Days Prophecy, Modern False Prophets And A Modern Revival, Jesus Opened The Meaning Of Old Testament Prophecies To His Followers, Signs Of The Last Days, Our Incomplete Historical Record, Conniving Unbelieving Jews And The Stolen Body Story, Record Destroyers
Directly related to the Futurist theological perspective is a system of Biblical exegesis -- that is, interpretation -- known as Dispensationalism. This form of interpretation was first proposed by John Nelson Darby. Darby was a nineteenth century lawyer, an Anglican priest, and one of the primary founders of the Plymouth Brethren. Dispensationalism became popular in large part due to the notes that are found in the Scofield Reference Bible. Dispensationalism proposes that human history is divided into seven distinct periods -- or dispensations -- during each of which God relates to, deals with and tests man according to His revealed Will for that period, and offers humanity different means of Salvation.
Dispensationalism teaches a clear and eternal distinction between Israel and the Church. It also teaches that the purpose of the first advent of Jesus Christ was to offer an earthly kingdom to the Jews, which would reinstate the Old Testament legal system. This kingdom was to expand to the entire world under the Messiah. Due to the Jews' rejection of Christ, Jesus died on the Cross in order to initiate the dispensation of Grace. Dispensationalism likewise teaches a secretive Pre-Tribulation Rapture for Christians -- but not for Old Testament Saints -- followed by Christ's Second Coming seven years later. Dispensationalism is taught and promoted in one form or another by such organizations and people as Moody Bible Institute, Dallas Theological Seminary, Jerry Fallwell, Pat Robertson, Jack Van Impe and Hal Lindsey.
Directly related to Dispensationalism is the "Seven Church Ages" doctrine, which was primarily supported and promoted by William M. Branham in his 1965 book called "An Exposition of the Seven Church Ages". Supposedly, this wayward doctrine is based on the following verses which are found in the Book of Revelation:
"Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter; The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches."
Revelation 1:19-20, KJV
According to Branham, each of these seven churches represents a church age which has existed from the time of the original First Century Church, up to our present time, with the final church age being the age of the Laodicean Church. Mr. Branham also claimed that the seven Angels which are mentioned in the previous verses aren't really spiritual entities, but rather seven human messengers -- or Prophets -- one of each of whom has existed during each of these seven church ages. However, in my opinion, this is a man-made false doctrine which is not supported by the Scriptures. In fact, all we have to do is to go back ten verses earlier, where we are clearly told exactly who these Seven Churches are, as well as where they were located, and when they existed, as we see by the following verses:
"I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea."
Revelation 1:10-11, KJV
Clearly then, these were seven Christian congregations which existed at that time in Asia Minor, which we know today as the country of Turkey. There is really no mystery there, or a need to try to interpret what those two verses are saying. To do so is to twist and pervert the meaning of God's Word; and that is exactly what William Branham did, in my opinion.
At any rate, given my previous explanations regarding the three different theological perspectives, Dispensationalism, and the "Seven Church Ages" doctrine, I hope you can see how easy it is to become lost in so much doctrinal confusion. Is it really any wonder that the modern Christian Church is so divided by so many different doctrines, and so many different denominations? It is clearly not the united Church that was born during the First Century. The Devil has had two thousand years to wreak doctrinal havoc on the Body of Christ, and he has done a fine job of it. Clearly, we are not one, as Jesus and the Apostles of old had hoped we would be. Consider the following verses:
"And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are . . . That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me."
John 17:11, 21-23, KJV
"And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd."
John 10:16, KJV
"That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."
Romans 15:6, KJV
"Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment."
1 Corinthians 1:10, KJV
"Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you."
2 Corinthians 13:11, KJV
"I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace"
Ephesians 4:1-3, KJV
"Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel;"
Philippians 1:27, KJV
"Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind."
Philippians 2:2, KJV
Returning to our previous topic, if we were to take the time to explore every single facet of each of these theological perspectives, we would be here for a very long time, and I would end up writing a twenty-part series. However, that is not the purpose of this current series by any means. Our goal is to concentrate on the one which has dominated modern Christianity for many decades now, and to examine its claim regarding the future Return of Christ. The big question is this: Do the Scriptures really indicate that Jesus will return to the Earth in the near future, following a period of Great Tribulation, in order to defeat the Beast and the False Prophet at the Battle of Armageddon, so that He can set up His Millennial Kingdom, or is this merely another man-made false doctrine?
If you would have asked me to answer this question even a few years ago, I would not have hesitated to tell you that I was certain that at some point in the future, and hopefully during my own lifetime, Jesus would return to the Earth, in order to fulfill all of the key points which are believed and promoted by those Christians who embrace the Futurist theological perspective. After all, as I explained to you in part one of this series, I was one of them for over four decades of my life, and it never occurred to me that I could be wrong. "So what happened?", you may be asking yourself. "Why the sudden change in your doctrinal position?"
Actually, it was not sudden. It was rather gradual. In fact, I was not even looking to change my views; because as I just said, I had no reason to believe that my beliefs were wrong. As some of you know, when I write my articles and series, I spend a lot of time digging into the Scriptures, so that I can offer Biblical support for what I share. After all, as I have said many times before, my goal is to place my readers' faith in the Word of God, and not just in what I say. Let me remind you again that if someone goes on and on preaching, and rarely ever even quotes verses from the Bible, watch out!
At any rate, sometime in late 2011, or perhaps early 2012 -- I really cannot remember now -- while working on a number of articles, I began to encounter a few verses here and there which challenged my Futurist viewpoint, and made me question my understanding regarding the timing of Christ's Return. It wasn't just a sudden revelation. However, by October of 2012, I had collected enough verses to realize that I really needed to re-evaluate certain beliefs, some of which I had embraced for over four decades. It was at that point that I began to write this current series, and I have slowly worked on it since that time. Yes, my friends, this series has been years in the making.
As I have shared with my readers before, I embrace what I refer to as an "evolving theology". In other words, if the Lord, through His Word, reveals to me that I have been in error regarding some of my beliefs, then I must be willing to change them. If I don't do this, then I am no better than other Christians who stubbornly cling to their beliefs, even when they are wrong. As I said, some of the verses I began to encounter were quite troubling. In fact, as you will now discover, they are some of the very same verses which some of you have asked me about in private chat, because these verses have troubled you as well. This does not surprise me in the least, because I have come to believe that the Lord will often choose to reveal a particular truth to different people at the same time. Doing this tends to act as a safety valve, and it helps us to confirm for each other that we are on the right track.
So exactly what is it that I discovered in the Bible which troubled me so? Are you ready for this bomb of Scriptural truth? Well, as different verses began to accumulate in my list, it became increasingly clear to me that, contrary to what I had for so long believed, Jesus actually promised to return during the Apostles' lifetimes, and not two thousand years in the distant future, as Futurists believe. I simply could not ignore the preponderance of Scriptures which was being revealed to me. Consider the following verses very carefully:
"But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come."
Matthew 10:23, KJV
"Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom."
Matthew 16:28, KJV
"And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power."
Mark 9:1, KJV
"But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God."
Luke 9:27, KJV
"Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also . . . Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it come to pass, that, when it is come to pass, ye might believe."
John 14:1-3, 28-29, KJV
"Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee? Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me. Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true."
John 21:20-24, KJV
Please notice some of the very specific things which Jesus says regarding the timing of His Return:
1. His followers would not even have enough time to preach in all of the cities of Israel before He would return. How could this statement possibly be true if Jesus were to return some two thousand years in the future as Futurists like to believe?
2. Some of the Disciples would not die until they had seen Jesus return in the power of His Kingdom. In other words, they would still be alive at His Return. Please notice the usage of the word "some". This statement by Jesus clearly exposes one of the lies of the Roman Catholic Church, which for centuries has taught that all of the original Apostles died martyrs' deaths. Today such stories are referred to as "church tradition", but at least some of them are merely fabricated nonsense, based on what Jesus himself said in the previous verses.
3. Over the years, I have also come across the false belief which claims that John the Beloved is still alive today. You see, based on what Jesus said to Peter regarding John still being alive at His Return, because Futurists believe that Jesus hasn't returned yet, they need some way to explain what Jesus said about John. Thus, the only way for them to avoid calling Jesus a liar, is by claiming that John the Beloved is somewhere hidden and still alive today.
4. Jesus told His followers that following His Resurrection, He would return to His Father in order to prepare a place for them, and that afterwards, He would return for them in order to take them to that very same place. Furthermore, He told them that when these events occurred, they would believe. Now, if we accept the Futurist point of view that Jesus would return some two thousand years in the future, then that indirectly implies that Jesus never returned for the Apostles, as He had promised to do, thus making Him a liar. It also implies that the Apostles have been rotting in their graves for the past two thousand years. But that is not what Jesus told them would happen to them.
In my opinion, just the previous group of verses alone presents a strong case for proving that Jesus never stated to His followers that He would return two thousand years in the future. He told them that He would return during their lifetimes, and that is what they expected Him to do. This attitude of expectation is made very clear in the Book of the Acts, in the Epistles, and in the Book of Revelation. In fact, the Book of Revelation offers us a very clear indication regarding the actual time frame of the Lord's Return. Consider this verse which so many people tend to overlook:
"Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen."
Revelation 1:7, KJV
Please take note of the phrase "and they also which pierced him". It should be obvious to you that the word "they" can only be referring to the Romans. Why? Because they pierced Jesus' back with a whip. They pierced Jesus' hands and feet with nails. They pierced His head with a crown of thorns. They pierced His side with a lance in order to determine if He was dead yet. It should be evident to you then that, among other things, the previous verse is stating that the Romans would witness Christ's Return. The Roman Empire would still be in power when Jesus returned. At least some of the Roman individuals who pierced Jesus' body would still be alive at His Return. This Scriptural fact alone negates the erroneous belief that Jesus said He would return to Earth two thousand years in the future.
Now, I have a confession to make. I have been aware of the previous verse from the Book of Revelation for many years. Although its meaning regarding the Romans still being alive at the time of Christ's Return now seems so clear to me, because I had fallen under the deception of the Futurist theological perspective for so many years, I had to somehow make sense of that verse. So what I did -- and perhaps you, or someone you know has done this as well -- was to assume that the Romans were looking up from Hell and watching Jesus return. However, that is not what that verse indicates by any means. In its entirety, it is describing living people looking up and wailing, as they witness Christ's Return.
As I said earlier, because of the various things which Jesus said to the Apostles regarding His Return, there was a clear attitude of expectation amongst the Apostles and the other Disciples. It should come as no surprise then that Peter and the other Apostles -- who had just been filled with the Holy Spirit in Acts chapter two -- clearly stated that they were living in the Last Days, exactly as had been prophesied by the Prophet Joel. Consider the following verses as proof:
"But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words: For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day. But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke: The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come: And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved."
Acts 2:14-21, KJV
As you may know, Peter and the Apostles were referring to the following prophecy which had been written by the Prophet Joel hundreds of years earlier during the final centuries of the Old Testament period:
"And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit. And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the LORD come. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the LORD shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the LORD hath said, and in the remnant whom the LORD shall call."
Joel 2:28-32, KJV
As hard as it is to believe, despite the fact that Peter and the Apostles clearly stated by the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit that Joel's prophecy was fulfilled during the First Century, and that the First Century represented the Last Days, as I point out in such series as "Have You Been Slain in the Spirit?", today there are many preachers and Bible teachers -- such as the Latter Rain people, as well as a number of other charismatic groups -- who insist that the Prophet Joel's prophecy concerns our own time, and a great outpouring of God's Spirit -- or revival -- which they claim is already happening, or else will soon happen. This false and pervasive belief has in fact led to the appearance of many wannabe false prophets in our modern day. As I have mentioned before, you can find them all over the Internet; particularly on YouTube, and on the various popular social networks.
In fact, because of my own deception under the Futurist umbrella, for many years I was likewise convinced of this false doctrine as well. However, based on everything that I believe the Lord has revealed to me directly through the Scriptures in recent years, I am becoming more convinced that "the great and the terrible day of the LORD" occurred during the First Century, and that the Last Days likewise transpired during that same time period, exactly as Peter and the Apostles stated to that crowd in the Book of Acts.
The truth of the matter is that to promote the belief that the Prophet Joel's prophecy concerns our own time, is to indirectly accuse Peter and the Apostles of having been wrong. Even though they had all just been filled with the Holy Ghost, by assigning Joel's prophecy to our own time, we are saying that Peter and the Apostles were misguided in their understanding. Personally, I do not accept this for a minute. I am absolutely convinced that they spoke the truth. Aside from the fact that the Scriptures inform us that the Apostles had just been filled with the Holy Spirit, another reason why I am convinced that they spoke the truth, is because following His Resurrection from the dead, Jesus opened the Old Testament Scriptures to His Disciples. He gave them the understanding which they had previously lacked, as we can determine by the following example verses:
"Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. And they drew nigh unto the village, whither they went: and he made as though he would have gone further. But they constrained him, saying, Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. And he went in to tarry with them. And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them. And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight. And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures? . . . And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me."
Luke 24:25-32, 44, KJV
During the forty days that Jesus remained on Earth following His Resurrection from the dead, I would assume that He had similar teaching sessions with all of the other Apostles and Disciples as well. If anyone was properly informed regarding the true meaning of the Old Testament prophecies, surely it was them. You may recall that in part one of this series, we learned that even the Apostle Paul was taught directly by Jesus Christ, as we see here:
"But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ."
Galatians 1:11-12, KJV
In short, in stating that the prophecy of Joel was in the process of being fulfilled, the Apostles had two things in their favor: Jesus had instructed them personally regarding these matters; and they had just been filled with the Holy Ghost. Considering these points, I simply don't believe that they could have been misguided in their thoughts regarding Joel's prophecy.
As you will recall, the Prophet Joel spoke of great celestial signs and wonders which would occur during the Last Days. In the verses we looked at a moment ago from the Book of Acts, Peter and the Apostles clearly confirmed by the Holy Spirit that these events were to occur during their own time. One reason why they were probably so confident of this fact, is because in the Gospels, Jesus had confirmed Joel's prophecy when He said the following to them. It seems to me that the Prophet Joel, Jesus, Peter and the rest of the Apostles were all speaking of the very same events:
"Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:"
Matthew 24:29, KJV
"But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, And the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken."
Mark 13:24-25, KJV
"And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; Men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken."
Luke 21:25-26, KJV
It is also important that we recognize that due to the lack of a complete record of the events which occurred during that time period, we do not know what celestial or earthly signs the Lord may have performed. There are in fact gaps in our understanding, and we do not have a complete picture of all of the events, particularly the events which transpired during the last half of the First Century. Tragically, over the centuries, many ancient and valuable parchments -- such as papyrus scrolls -- have been lost to decay, or else they were intentionally destroyed. In particular, I am reminded of the fire -- or possibly fires -- in the Royal Library of Alexandria in ancient Egypt.
To complicate the situation even further, there is also the problem of the unbelieving Jews themselves. If you are at all familiar with the contents of the four Gospels, then you will know that from the time that Jesus appeared on the scene, the unbelieving Jews did everything within their power to mock and ridicule Him, to discredit Him, and ultimately to kill and destroy Him. However, not satisfied with that, they even stooped to lower levels when they propagated the false story that Jesus never rose from the dead, and that His body had merely been stolen by His Disciples. As Matthew informs us:
"Now when they were going, behold, some of the watch came into the city, and shewed unto the chief priests all the things that were done. And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers, Saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept. And if this come to the governor’s ears, we will persuade him, and secure you. So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day."
Matthew 28:11-15, KJV
While some of my pro-Israel readers will no doubt take some degree of offense at this statement, I have long considered the fact that the unbelieving Jews have had two thousand years in which to erase and destroy any evidence that Jesus existed. It is not surprising then that even today there are many Jews who don't believe that Jesus Christ ever walked the Earth. In fact, there are some atheist groups in the U.S.A. -- and I assume elsewhere as well -- who endeavor to prove the very same thing. One such group is called "The Jesus Seminar". Beware of them!
However, despite the loss of many important ancient scrolls, and despite the endeavors of unbelievers to blur the picture concerning the events of the First Century, given what we know today, it seems quite possible to me that the Sun being darkened, and the Moon being turned to blood, could easily have been describing a solar eclipse and a lunar eclipse during that age. Perhaps the stars falling from heaven also signifies a great meteor shower, and not actual stars.
Please go to part three for the continuation of this series.
⇒ Go To The Next Part . . .