Your Best Life Later

What is Christianity? Is it a religion or a relationship? Is it a lifestyle or a set of beliefs? In the simplest terms, Christianity means to be like Christ. It means to become a follower of Jesus, turning all of our life and ourselves over to Him. To many in the West, however, Christianity has become a generic program of self-improvement that promises them “their best life now!” Nothing could be further from the truth. To become a Christian as Jesus and His apostles defined it is a guarantee of trouble. You are entering a war zone that is thousands of years old, a fierce clash of righteousness and wickedness. You will live out this war in your own heart as your flesh rages against the leadership of the Holy Spirit. Your friends will desert you, leaders will treat you unjustly, and you will learn to endure hardship for His name. Like Him, you will learn obedience through the things that you suffer. (Hebrews 5:8)

We must abandon the Americanized Gospel and return to the original message given by Jesus and His apostles. As Jude says, we must contend for the faith that was once delivered to the saints. The scriptures were not given to us so that we could have a great life with all our needs met and our hearts carefree and happy. Such a message is a perversion of the true Gospel and those who follow it will find disaster rather than deliverance.

Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. (Matt. 7:13-14)

Rather, the message of Christ is to lay down our lives now for the hope of a future glory so great that any trial of this present age is not worthy to be compared to it. Let us examine some of the foundational elements of Christianity that we must understand and embrace if we are to fulfill the great commission and obey the first commandment.

The Hebraic Nature of Scripture

We Americans tend to see ourselves as the center of the world. We are the ‘super power’ in terms of wealth and resources as men see them. We tend to filter everything we see and hear (including the Gospel) through our own cultural experiences and world view. Joel Richardson, author of Mideast Best and When a Jew Rules the World, says that whenever he speaks in the US, he is invariably asked where he sees America in biblical prophecy. Yet, when speaking internationally he is almost never asked this about his current destination. For example, Australian audiences don’t ask where he sees Australia in prophecy. Yes, we Americans have a big national ego.

It is essential to realize that the bible is an eastern book. It was written by men of eastern descent, and it uses eastern literary styles to communicate truth from an eastern world view. The bible is Jerusalem-centric in its presentation of geopolitical prophetic predictions, and it is Hebraic in every sense of the word. Just fifteen chapters into the Bible we read of God making an eternal covenant with Abraham, the father of the nation of Israel.  From the calling out of Abraham, through the coming of Messiah at the end of days to ransom Israel from destruction and to establish a golden age of peace and justice, the story of scripture is the story of the Jews. The bible was not primarily written to or about America, or any other western nation. While it is certainly true that the blessings of Abraham and the promises of eternal life are extended to us westerners, we must always keep in mind that we were grafted in to God’s olive tree, as Paul teaches us in Romans 11:

And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.” Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God… (Romans 11: 16-22)

Failure to recognize the Hebraic nature of scripture leads to all manner of serious error, not the least of which is the church’s long history of anti-Semitism. Supersessionism or “replacement theology”, the teaching that the church has replaced Israel and nullified God’s Abrahamic covenant with the Jews, is a cancer in the body of Christ that must be cured. To be perfectly clear, the only way of salvation for the Jew or the Gentile is through Jesus. Any Jew who receives Yeshua as Messiah is added to the Church and has become a part of the “one new man” that God is bringing forth. So I am not speaking about some kind of emotional Jewish nationalism based on ethnicity that ignores the current apostate condition of Israel. However, the idea that God is done with the Jews as His chosen people, and has replaced all the literal promises made to ethnic Israel with spiritual promises to the Church, is a doctrine of demons. As someone recently said, if God is done with the Jews then someone had better inform Satan as it seems he has not received the memo!

So much error in our thinking, and especially in our understanding of bible prophecy, could be eliminated by grasping the reality that the scriptures are Hebrew-centric. America can be saved by faith in Christ, as can Europe, Australia, Asia, or any other people or nation. But we must realize that when we receive God’s free gift of salvation, we have become a part of the story and purpose of the Jews. The earth will soon be ruled by a Jewish king who has his throne in Jerusalem. To bristle against this idea reveals a lack of understanding of scripture, and possibly reveals the sort of arrogant ignorance that Paul warned about in Romans.

The Messianic Focus of Scripture

Along with being Hebraic in nature, the bible is also thoroughly Messianic in focus. By this I mean that from Genesis to Revelation, the overarching theme of the entire bible is the coming of a savior, a Messiah, who would redeem mankind from the power of Satan and establish an earthly kingdom without end. The story of the bible is the story of Messiah and his coming to the world through the agency of the Jews, as decreed by God. Failure to understand and accept this principle is the root of much of the distortion being taught today as ‘the gospel.’

The bible was not written as a how-to manual for experiencing self-improvement or a guide to having your best life now. It is not necessarily the purpose of God or the intent of scripture for us to be financially well off, to have all of our petitions granted, to have all of our problems solved, or to have a happy life. The purpose of “church” is not to grow an organization, to provide a format for a leader to gain a platform of influence, to provide a career for those who want to make ministry their occupation, or to give us a once-a-week spiritual booster shot so that we can live a ‘victorious life.’

No, the bible was given to us so that we could know the truth: that we are wicked in our hearts, that no one can live with God in their unregenerate state, and that God would send a Messiah who would crush the head of Satan and redeem man back to God by giving his own life for us. The message of Scripture is about how we should respond to this truth, how we are to live in light of truth, and about the blessed and glorious hope we have if we continue in the truth, faithful till the end. From before the foundation of the world, to an eternity so far ahead that our natural minds cannot grasp it, the bible is thoroughly and completely Messianic in nature. Any doctrine or emphasis that fails to ultimately point us to Jesus the Messiah is not from God who sent Him.

The Coming Day of the Lord

The book of Genesis contains the first Messianic promise; this prophecy of a coming seed who would bruise Satan’s head has been called ‘the mother prophecy.’ This means that all Messianic prophecy is an expansion of this original promise. As we make our way through the Old Testament and the Hebrew prophets, we find that much more detail is given, culminating in the highly detailed book of Daniel. One theme that consistently emerges from the prophets is the coming Day of the Lord.

The book of Numbers contains one of the first mentions in the Bible about a coming Day of Judgment for specific enemies of Israel (Numbers 24:14-21) and this prediction of the Day of the Lord judgment is repeated throughout the Bible. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and many other prophets testify to the same details involving the same nations in the latter days. This future Day of the Lord will mark the end of this present age and the beginning of the new Messianic age. It is called “the great and terrible Day of the Lord” because for those who have the hope of redemption it will be great indeed, but for those who have rejected God it will be terrible. And none will fare worse than those regions and peoples who have persecuted Israel and the saints of God.

This awareness of the coming Day of the Lord is woven throughout the NT. It was an intrinsic part of the Gospel that Paul preached:

…in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel. (Romans 2:16)

I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you by Christ Jesus, that you were enriched in everything by Him in all utterance and all knowledge, even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you, so that you come short in no gift, eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also confirm you to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. (I Cor. 1:4-8)

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (Ephesians 4:30)

…being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6)

Paul teaches extensively about the Day of the Lord in his letters to Thessalonica. The coming Day of the Lord is perhaps one of the most important and consistent themes to be articulated in the apostolic letters. And it is important to note that Paul, and all the apostles, would have used the Old Testament prophets as the foundation of their own doctrine regarding the Day of the Lord.

This “Day of Jesus Christ” is all about the return of the Messiah to punish his enemies and to take up his kingdom, ruling from Jerusalem with His saints. The clear message of Paul, John, Peter, and others is this: In light of the coming Day of the Lord, how should we live? Having this hope will change us thoroughly, producing holiness and purity as we watch and pray in anticipation of these things. In light of this one great reality alone, much of what passes for Christianity in America is just plain apostasy and foolishness.

Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God?  (2 Peter 3: 11-12)

The Restoration of the Earth

Many Western Christians struggle with having a biblical world view because they lack understanding about the coming Messianic age. The average American Christian understands the Gospel to be a message of sins being forgiven so that he or she can ‘go to heaven.’ It would surprise many and offend more than a few to discover that this is not the Gospel of the Bible. We have adopted a very westernized version that has been permeated with Greek philosophy. As a generality, the Greeks believed that the invisible world was good and the natural world was evil. This is in stark contrast to the Hebrew mindset that understands that both the heavens and the earth are the Lord’s, and both are good. One result of this Greek influence into Western thought is the Church drifting away from a Biblical understanding of creation and redemption, and adopting the idea that Heaven is some sort of ethereal realm where spirits float on clouds playing harps.

The Hebrew prophets describe the Messianic kingdom as a time of great restoration. Many of the cities destroyed during the cataclysmic events of the Day of the Lord, described in detail in the book of Revelation, will be rebuilt during the reign of Christ. The curse will be lifted, creation will be restored, and the earth will bring forth life in abundance. Nations will no longer war any longer. Jesus will rule over this era of peace from His throne in Jerusalem in the Middle East, and Isaiah tells us that all the nations will send their leaders to worship Him and learn of Him. Zechariah tells us that in that day, men will grab the hem of the garment of a Jew and ask to know about God.

This thousand-year Messianic Kingdom is an important theme throughout the Bible. The privilege of ruling and reigning with Jesus on this earth is the destiny of the saints… not some nebulous existence in the clouds. If we are not teaching and preaching this reality, then we are not preaching the same Gospel that Jesus and the apostles preached. The Gospel of the Kingdom is all about the restoration of the earth, and the eventual joining together of the heavens and the earth.

 …having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth, in Him. (Eph. 1:9-10)

The Theology of Suffering Now

Paul tells us that he considers the sufferings of this present age are not worthy to be compared to the glory that is about to be revealed in us. How much of the Western church includes “sufferings” in their theology? When we understand that the true essence of Christianity is the abandoning of our life to follow a Jewish Messiah, we begin to grasp the reality of suffering. The culture is becoming openly hostile to both Christians and Jews. Christ did not purchase us with His own blood so that we could enjoy our “best life now.”

The apostles instructed us to accept suffering and persecution. Jesus told us that if the world hated Him, it would hate us also. The clear pattern of Scripture is one of suffering now with the hope and expectation of great rewards in the age to come, beginning with our resurrection from the dead at the return of Messiah. The obnoxious prosperity Gospel, with its message of all the best to you now, is an insult to Christ and to the early church.

The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs-heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. (Romans 8: 16-17)

…but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. (I Peter 4:13)

For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps. (I Peter 2:21)

The Glory About to be Revealed

Nearly all the statements made by the apostles about suffering also include the hope of glory about to be revealed in us. As I have already pointed out, the apostles would have understood this to be in the context of the coming of the Day of the Lord and the long-awaited Messianic kingdom. They taught us to fervently hope for that day.

Another iteration of “your best life now” is the “Kingdom Now” theology so prevalent within the charismatic church. While the prosperity Gospel promises happiness and success in this life, the Kingdom Now theology promises believers that all the power of the age to come is available now. Healing now! Miracles now! Dominion over enemies now! While it is true that we have been given a measure of these things in this present age, the emphasis on the supernatural power gifts among Kingdom Now groups is all out of balance with scripture.

The apostles did not go around teaching and emphasizing signs and wonders. While these did take place at times, they were (and are) not the norm. Paul did not experience the special miracles at Ephesus mentioned in Acts and then attempt to duplicate them in the next city he went to. Seeking signs and wonders instead of pursuing humility and embracing hardship is dangerous. Deception in the last days involving false signs and wonders is warned about in Scripture.

The clear teaching of the Bible is that we have been given a down payment now of the full inheritance we shall receive when Jesus returns. It is only because of a worldly focus on “this life” at the expense of living for the age to come that charismatics put so much energy into things like healing meetings. When the Bible promises us that God heals all our diseases, we can fail to understand that the fullness of this promise will be experienced in the age to come. When Jesus healed all the sick people brought to Him, He was modeling what the Kingdom would look like- not setting up an example for us to try and follow as a part of everyday life in this age. If you doubt this, please go to the nearest hospital and heal every sick person there. To be sure, God heals at times! I pray for the sick frequently. But I realize that laboring for everyone to be healed all the time is not something the apostles taught or practiced.

If the glory is about to be revealed in us, then by definition it isn’t here yet! The Kingdom Now error leads to serious damage to the Body of Christ, and it is rooted in a lack of understanding of the Scriptures. It is just one more attempt by Satan to get the people of God to focus on “now” while failing to grasp the importance of the coming age.

Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. (I John 3:2)

May God grant the Church in the United States repentance from our selfishness and corruption. May we have our eyes opened to the Word of God in a fresh way, understanding the Hebraic and Messianic nature of this Book. May we look to the coming Day of the Lord with fear and trembling, repenting of our wicked ways. May we forsake the pursuit of our best life now, and take up our calling to suffer for His namesake that we may rejoice greatly with Him when He is revealed. May we choose to lay down our lives now that we may live for eternity. Amen and Amen.