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Friday, February 14th 2014

12:09 PM

The Last Generation: Your Place in Bible History

By Pastor Bruce Sikes

I have heard people say, “I wonder what it was like to have been alive back in Bible times, to have met the Apostle Paul or Moses or King David? How exciting it would have been to have actually lived when Jesus walked the Earth! What a privilege it would have been to be a part of Bible history!”

 

Last I checked Bible history is not finished yet! The story of God working with man is not over. The Bible’s history is man’s history. There are prophecies yet to be fulfilled. You and I are living in Bible times right now! Have you ever thought about that?

 

Consider the time period between the writings of the “Old” Testament and the “New” Testament. It was a period of about four hundred years from Malachi in the 5th century BC, to the appearance of Jesus in the early 1st century AD. This period of time between the two Testaments is often called the Intertestamental period. Sometimes people will refer to it as the Silent period, because God did not “speak” to His people in writing during this time. Although there were the Apocrypha writings, some of which the New Testament references, they are not considered equal to, or a part of, the Old or New Testaments. That’s an interesting study for another time! The point I want to make here is that it’s absurd to think that the people who were alive during those 400 years were not living in “Bible times” merely because no holy canon of scripture was written during this period. That’s important to ponder because we have a tendency to think about the Bible’s history of God working with man as collection of newspaper reports. By that I mean, as we read the Bible and see that there are gaps in time where no new reports were coming in, we conclude it must be because nothing interesting or significant was happening during that period.

 

However, think about this: the last generation of the Intertestamental period were the people who were alive when Jesus came! That included Mary, Joseph and all the Apostles! They had received no new written word of God because the New Testament wasn’t written until after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension into heaven. Nevertheless they had the Old Testament Scriptures which were written to sustain them and bring them hope in the fulfillment of the prophecies of the coming of the Messiah. Much of it was communicated orally through generations of Godly fathers, mothers, and faithful ministers of God who passed down the teachings of the Hebrew Scriptures to their children.

 

It was from these people of the so-called silent period who were among the first to recognize the coming of the Messiah

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We see an example of this in Luke Chapter 2 when Mary and Joseph took the infant Jesus to present him at the temple. The text says that a woman called Anna:

 

“Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.” (Luke 2:38 NIV)

 

It’s interesting that the verse puts it that way; “she…spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.” Why didn’t it simply say that she spoke to everyone about the child Jesus? After all, weren’t they were on the temple grounds and wasn’t her message was for all the Jews? I think Luke was moved by God to make it clear for us that not all of God’s people were “looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem”. Sure, the prophecies of the coming Messiah, His birth in Bethlehem, and so on, were widely known, but not many were eagerly anticipating it. It’s not because they didn’t believe that the Bible was true, they just didn’t see it as a legitimate reality that might be fulfilled in their lifetime.

 

Now, the woman at the temple was not alone. Luke chapter 2 also mentions a man named Simeon. Simeon, like Anna, became ecstatic when he saw the infant Jesus. Both were long time temple goers, and as we might say today, they were regular “fixtures in the church”. Judging by their immediate reactions upon seeing the infant Messiah, it wouldn’t be difficult to believe they had been well known over the years for saying, “The Messiah is coming!”, “The Messiah is coming!” Both were very old; Anna was 84, so it was extremely unlikely that either would have still been alive to see Jesus fulfill His messianic mission on Earth. Yet, they recognized and enthusiastically proclaimed His coming and the beginning of the fulfillment of the prophecies concerning the Messiah. Their “looking forward to” attitude was more than a mere intellectual assent that, “Yes, the Messiah will eventually come one day.” They, instead, genuinely anticipated His coming. Like a child on Christmas morning, they had an expectation that the gift of God would arrive in their day!

 

However, as we saw throughout Jesus’ ministry, that anticipation was hardly a universally held attitude among God’s people. Sure, there was a remnant of faithful believers, but even so, as we read in Luke chapter 19, Jesus wept as He approached Jerusalem. Why? Because He said, “…you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you." What’s more, Jesus went on to prophesy that death and destruction would come to them because they failed to recognize the time of God’s coming.

 

Now, there are practical minded people today who would say that this was to be expected. “After all,” they would say, “it had been 400 silent years since the Jewish people had received any “newly minted” written word from God. So, naturally their enthusiastic expectation for the Messiah’s coming had waned away.” I wonder, when people say this, who are they are trying to excuse? Is it those ancient people of God, or is it themselves? In either case, it’s a feeble excuse.

 

If we take those 400 silent years and multiple them by 5 times, we’ll arrive at 2,000 years. That’s roughly the time period since our generation of believers has had any “new” or “freshly” written word of God.

 

However, during this time we not only have the benefit of the Old Testament scriptures, we also have the written word of God in the New Testament, and let’s not forget to mention the testimony of the Holy Spirit Himself! So we can hardly point an accusing finger at those Intertestamental people. So what’s our excuse? Are we going to say when the Lord returns, “Lord, you didn’t say anything for 2000 years, so we didn’t know what to do! How did you expect us to know we were the last generation?

The fact is that we live in the Interadvental period, the period of time between the first and second Advents, the first and second coming of Christ. You and I are living in Bible times!

 

Has God been silent with us? No! Quite the contrary; as born again believers in the Messiah Jesus, we have one big advantage that makes us different than the people living during the 400 year Intertestamental period. We have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit! However, before we start boasting about that, we should ask ourselves, “What have we done with His Holy Spirit?” Too many Christians today keep Him at a distance, not letting him in, not living IN Christ. We jump in and out of Christ as it suits us! We are no better off than those we claimed lacked the Holy Spirit during those silent years. In fact, we are worse off, because we have it all, the Old Testament, New Testament and the Holy Spirit; yet far too often many of us behave as we have none of them. We treat the Bible as a collection of interesting old stories, morality tales, object lessons written long ago to help us “learn to be better people” as we live our lives today. And our attitude about the Holy Spirit is like, “Well, it’s nice to know He’s there whenever we need Him. And sure, it’s comforting to know that Jesus is in heaven preparing for His return, but of course, we don’t know when that will be.”

 

Do you know why the Bible doesn’t provide us with more exact details about the time of His coming? It’s because we don’t need any more information! If we are IN Christ, if we have the INdwelling of the Holy Spirit, we would just know when He is coming! How could we not know? Our hearts within us will be burning warmer and warmer and our spirits would be glowing brighter and brighter at the approach of our Lord. Our expectations, our “looking forward” to His imminent coming, would make us downright giddy with excitement! We would have the enthusiasm of that child on Christmas morning, we would be saying over and over, “Jesus is coming! Jesus is coming!” We would show the same excitement the people did when they saw Jesus coming in His triumphant entry into Jerusalem, shouting "Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!" We wouldn’t be able to stop ourselves if we are IN Christ. As Jesus told the Pharisees when they wanted His disciples to keep quiet, He said, "If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out."

 

Jesus didn’t think it strange or awkward or premature on the part of the people to feel excitement at His coming. He thought it was a perfectly normal reaction. He didn’t say, “Wait, wait, keep quiet! You’re embarrassing the religious leaders and making the non-Jews uncomfortable! Plus, you haven’t seen me die on the cross and be resurrected yet.”

 

They didn’t fully understand at that time why Jesus had come and all He would do, but they were still excited at His coming! They were excited that the promises of God were about to be fulfilled. As I write this, in my part of the world it has been one of the coldest and longest winters we have experienced in decades. I have heard so many people say how they are “looking forward” to spring time, how they “can’t wait” until it gets here. Some have even begun to buy new clothes in anticipation of its arrival.

 

That’s exactly the attitude Jesus expects of His disciples as He returns. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says we are to be…

 

 “…like men waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes…” (Luke 12: 36-37)

 

Jesus wants us to be actively on the lookout for Him and ready for His arrival. The two go hand in hand, looking and being ready. If you are looking for the end of the age and for Christ to return but you are not ready, then you should be very, very afraid of that day. On the other hand, if you are busy getting yourself ready (i.e., double checking to make sure you’ve made a confession of faith, going to church, doing good deeds and trying not to sin), but you are not actively looking for your Savior to return, you may not be as ready for Him to arrive as you think.

 

Jesus used another wedding story to illustrate this for us in the Parable of the Ten Virgins of Matthew chapter 25. Not only were they caught napping when their Master returned, some thought they were ready, but were not. Jesus says of His return:

 

"At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. “At midnight the cry rang out: 'Here's the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!' Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.' 'No,' they replied, 'there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.' "But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. "Later the others also came. 'Sir! Sir!' they said. 'Open the door for us!' "But he replied, 'I tell you the truth, I don't know you.' "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour. (Matthew 25:1-13)

 

I’m afraid that for many of us living in the Interadvental period believe Jesus is taking too long to come back, and like the virgins above, we have become drowsy and fallen asleep. Or some of us have even become like the man servant in the earlier parable of Luke 12, where it states:

 

“The servant says to himself, 'My master is taking a long time in coming…’ and so he decides to eat, drink and be merry. It’s then that Jesus goes on to say; “The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.” That servant who knows his master's will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows.” (Luke 12:45-47)

 

In just those two parables Jesus challenges our apathy about His return, our lack of enthusiasm, our inadequate preparation, the foolishness of our earthly plans and desires, all of which will be burned away by the splendor of His coming!

 

In fact, Jesus talked a lot about His return. Why aren’t we doing the same?

 

Are we afraid to get excited about His return because we think we’ll sound foolish in front of our friends? Maybe it’s because we really don’t want to be known as one of “those” Christians, those simple, “Jesus is coming back soon”, one track mind people. That’s all they ever talk about. There’s a lot more to the Bible than all that end times stuff. After all people say, “You should live everyday as though the Lord is coming back today.”

 

Ok, that sounds good. We are certainly quick enough to say it, but do we really live that way? Do we really live our lives as though the Lord may actually physically return this day, in a few hours? If so, why then are we worried about our job, our health, our comforts, and our finances? Is it because we not have enough to last us for a couple more hours?

 

What did Jesus say about worrying?

 

“Then Jesus said to his disciples: "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?” (Luke 12:22-26)

 

It’s no mistake that this teaching of Jesus is included in the same chapter as His parable of the servant watching and being ready for his Master’s return. He knew what we would be thinking.

 

Well, let’s say we are very mature Christians and we don’t worry about those things and we’re living our lives as though Jesus is coming back today. Where is our excitement?

 

What are excited about now, but we will consider as a meaningless waste of time when our Master returns? Lord forbid, what things are we are excited about now, but we will be ashamed of when Christ comes for His Bride?

 

As believers, we have the mind of Christ, the Spirit of Christ, the “Cor Jesu”, the heart of Christ. That should enable us to control our desires, i.e., what we should or shouldn’t get excited about. I’m not saying you shouldn’t cheer at a ballgame, but you should be able to cheer at least as loud for the Lord! But of course a ballgame, or politics or food or whatever else might get us excited in our current lives here on earth, are physical things. It’s one thing to get excited about them because we can see, smell, hear and touch them in the here and now. However, a spiritual thing such as a promise of the Lord’s return is somehow harder for us to get excited about because it doesn’t have an immediate appeal to our carnal senses like something that is right before our eyes. But that is exactly what we will have when the Lord returns. We will be face to face with the person of Jesus.

 

If we wait until then to get excited, we are denying His presence in our lives today.

 

I want to make it clear that this message is about our own very personal inner excitement as we sense the return of the Lord. It is not about is not all the cheering that goes on during our public displays of excitement at our worship services. Playing peppy music, jumping up and down and waving our hands in the air is no more indication of genuine holy devotion than the half time show at the Super Bowl. It’s too easy to follow the crowd and fake excitement. It’s too easy to consciously or unconsciously manipulate worship services in order to produce the appropriate group response. There’s an entire trendy and narcissistic church music subculture that packages worship for mass appeal. Worship leaders and teams lap it up so they can have the latest and greatest in contemporary worship just like the big boys. If you really want to find out who has really been called to be a worship leader, take all their toys away and put them up on the stage all by themselves, no musicians, no instruments and tell them to lead worship – with their eyes closed. I’d like to see that. I really would. I don’t know who would be more uncomfortable, the worship leader or the congregation. I think it would be good for both of them. True worship doesn’t begin with music, instruments or overhead slides, it begins with ourselves, our personal intimate relationship with the Lord as we approach His throne with our inner spirit. There is much more to be said on this and I want us to remain focused on our topic, which, if you understand the part about us approaching the presence of the Lord on His throne in our spirits, then it helps us understand how our spirits react as the Lord approaches us as His return draws closer.

 

If you have never honestly been excited about the Lord’s return, then meditate on it until you sincerely and naturally feel it in your heart. Genuine excitement breeds excitement. It encourages and strengthens our brothers and sisters and it causes our enemies to take note of our sincerity and dedication to our Master. Pray about it, read God’s word, because the Lord is coming soon. Pray until when you think of the Lord’s return a big spontaneous smile crosses your face and you begin praising God in your spirit. Maybe even a little jump and fist pump! Don’t be surprised when that Person you love and that loves you walks through the door, but be joyfully excited instead! Tell Him, “I knew it! I knew You were coming!”

 

Yet, even so, it’s not all about us and our personal excitement is it? The dichotomy of the end time and the return of the Lord is that it will be terrific and horrific at the same time.

 

“… the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming….” (2 Peter 3:10-12)

 

Sadly, some people are more excited about the Rapture of the Church than about seeing the Lord when He returns! I wonder if they would be just as excited to see the Lord if He decided not to rapture them before the end? Rapture or no rapture, we have a mission and a message given to us by God.

 

Humanly speaking, I sometimes wonder, if He so desired, what the Lord would write if He wrote just one more chapter in the Bible, a testament about that last Interadvental generation just before His return. What would He write about us? Would it be, “Well done my faithful servants?” or would it be as Jesus asked; “…when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the Earth?" (Luke 18:8)

 

Who will be the Anna’s and Simeons’ in our generation, proclaiming “Jesus is coming! Jesus is coming!”? Who will be our John the Baptists, preparing the way for the Lord in our day? Just as there was a remnant of faithful believers who were “looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” when Jesus came the first time, so, too, there is a remnant of faithful believers ready and watching for His return today.

 

The Lord has placed you and me here at this time in history. Acts 17:56 says:

 

“From one man He made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.”

 

Can you imagine, after the Lord returns, you’re in heaven, maybe 10,000 years or so from now, and a man from the time of Moses comes up to you and asks, “What were you doing right before Jesus returned for His Church? Did you know He was coming? Were you excited?” What would be your answer?

 

We have a duty, an obligation, a Spirit-led calling to share the Gospel with a lost and dying world during this unique time in Bible history. Who couldn’t get excited?

 

Jesus is Coming!

 

 

For Christ and His Remnant,

Pastor Bruce

 

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