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What if Jesus Didn’t Return?

WHAT IF JESUS DIDN’T RETURN?

MIKE CUNNINGHAM

SEPTEMBER 30, 2012


“Boy I got lots of good stuff for our Bible study, teacher. Wait till you see what I’ve been able to come up with. I mean, like, it will blow your socks off!” “I’ve been asking God all week to bless you in your quest to learn the truth concerning the Second Coming of Christ and the end of the world.” “Would you like to lead today’s study, young man?” “Would I. Wow! I mean like, you bet I would, teacher.” The teen-age boy’s mother was obviously very proud while his father seemed to be unmoved.

“Listen to this quote, folks! It was made by a man who is still famous in certain circles. “I am concerned with Christ as He appears in the Gospels, taking the Gospel narrative as it stands, and there one does find some things that do not seem to be very wise. For one thing, He certainly thought that His second coming would occur in clouds of glory before the death of all the people who were living at that time. There are a great many texts that prove that. He says, for instance, “Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel till the Son of Man be come.” Then He says, “There are some standing here which shall not taste death till the Son of Man comes into His kingdom’, and there are a lot of places where it is quite clear that He believed His second coming would happen during the lifetime of many then living. That was the belief of His earlier followers, and it was the basis of His moral teaching. When He said, “take no thought for the morrow,” and things of that sort, it was very largely because He thought that the second coming was going to be very soon, and that all ordinary mundane affairs did not count. I have, as a matter of fact, known some Christians who did believe that the second coming was imminent. I knew a parson who frightened his congregation terribly by telling them that the second coming was imminent indeed, but they were much consoled when they found that he was planting trees in his garden.”

“The early Christians did really believe it, and they did abstain from such things as planting trees in their gardens, because they did accept from Christ the belief that the second coming was imminent. In that respect, clearly He was not as wise as some other people have been, and He was certainly not superlatively wise. Christ taught that you should give your goods to the poor, that you should not fight, that you should not go to church, and that you should not punish adultery.”

“End of quote” said the boy. “Do you folks share the man’s opinion? Do you agree with everything he said? Are you convinced that his statements are factual or are they a bunch of hogwash? The guy I just quoted was an atheist, someone who doesn’t believe in God. Bertrand Russell’s book: “Why I Am Not a Christian” is still in print today.”

“Do you folks think that Russell was correct when he said, “that Christ certainly thought that His second coming would occur in clouds of glory before the death of all the people who were living at the time? Would you get on an airplane for Bermuda if the pilot told you that he THOUGHT the plane would get you there? I mean like, if Christ really is God shouldn’t He KNOW what He’s talking about? I really want to believe in Jesus. I really do! But how can I if He doesn’t know for certain if He’s able to keep a promise? Did His Apostles believe He would come back? And how about His early followers? I have to agree with Russell on that one. As I explained last week, my Bible says that they did. And if you are honest with yourself, so does your bible, folks. The early Christians were hoping and pleading with God in fervent prayer to come back and rescue them from the horrendous persecution they were enduring in the Great Tribulation.”

“Is it ok with you, teacher, if I use church history to give everyone some illustrations of the agonizing suffering those early Christians were subjected to?” “Be my guest, young man.” “Thanks teacher! I kinder thought you would give me the go ahead. Listen up folks! Pay close attention folks!”

Evangelist John L. Bray, in his terrific book, “Matthew 24 Fulfilled” writes, “In the events of the great tribulation which Jesus Christ predicted for the nation of Israel, would be the summed up fulfillment of all prophecies remaining to be fulfilled concerning the Jewish people. In Luke 21:22, Jesus said, “For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.” Notice that He said “ALL”—not “some.” Everything concerning the Jewish people which had been prophesied and not yet been fulfilled, would be fulfilled in the closing days of the history of their nation.”

“And if this be true, how is it that some still say that things happening in the land of Israel today is a fulfillment of Bible prophecy? Nowhere in the New Testament do we find a single iota of a promise given concerning any future regathering, conversion, or anything else concerning the Jewish people.”

“In Luke 21:22, right after Jesus told His disciples to flee Jerusalem and Judaea, He stated, “For these be the days of vengeance, that things which are written may be fulfilled.” Here Jesus was saying that all these things must happen at Jerusalem so that ALL things written may be fulfilled. He did not mean, necessarily, that NOTHING else was predicted to happen, and that this event concluded ALL prophecy. It did conclude all prophecy which had been written concerning the final end of Jerusalem and the Jewish nation in A.D.70 according to Daniel (:24-27) . And we know of no other prophecy concerning the future of Israel yet to be fulfilled.”

“This statement of Jesus was like one He made in Luke 18:31, “Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written in the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished,” (see also Luke 24:44 and Acts 3:18). This did not mean that what happened in A.D. 33 at Calvary was ALL that was predicted concerning the Son of man could come to pass.”

“So when Jesus said in Luke 21:22 that the events of A.D. 67-70 would happen that “ALL things which are written may be fulfilled,” He was not saying that this would conclude ALL PROPHETIC EVENTS to be fulfilled, as some say. He was simply saying that these events had to happen so that all prophecy could be fulfilled.”

“But the statement that “Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled” (Luke 21:24) does not give any promise of restoration to Israel even after the time of the Gentiles be fulfilled. Some think that the creation of Israel as a nation in 1948 was a fulfillment of Bible prophecy and that the times of the Gentiles ended then. But the vast majority of so-called Jews are not of Jewish ancestry at all, and the remainder are mixed in their blood with other races, as the Encyclopedia Britannica says, “There is no Jewish race” (vol. 12, p. 1054, 1973 ed.)”

“Jerusalem had been under the captivity and dominion of foreign powers (Gentiles) ever since the time of Nebuchadnezzar, and these times of the Gentiles are still in effect. Jesus said, “And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led captive away into all nations; and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.” (Luke 21:24). A 1948 declaration concerning Israel as a nation does nothing to change the races of those who make up Jerusalem today. Jerusalem today is a mixture of races, and neither does the observance of Judaism alone create a Jewish race in Israel today.”

“When Jesus spoke of “great tribulation” in Matthew 24:21, He was referring to the awful horrors and tragic events of those days on the JEWISH people back in A.D. 67-70, in Jerusalem and Judaea. When John the Revelator spoke of “the great tribulation,” in Revelation 7:14 he was referring primarily to the awful persecutions being brought upon the CHRISTIAN people of his day, mainly at the instigation of the Roman Emperor Nero but including the tribulation and persecutions they were having under the Jewish leaders. The tribulation under Nero lasted approximately 3½ years, from A.D. 64 until A.D. 68 when Nero committed suicide. This period of time is mentioned several times in the book of Revelation. John called himself their “brother and companion in tribulation” Revelation 1:9, for it was during these approximate days which we have been discussing that those merely Christians themselves had been undergoing tremendous tribulation and persecution by Nero the Emperor of Rome. Nero began to reign October 13, 54 A.D. “It was not till A.D. 64, when Nero had been nearly ten years on the throne, that the slow light of History fully revealed to the Church of Christ what this more than monster was.” (Farrar, p, 13)

“About the time that Luke stopped writing the book of Acts, a conflagration [inferno] of fire broke out in Rome (on July 19, A.D. 64, in the 10th year of Nero’s reign. For nine days the fire raged, destroying much of the entire city of Rome. Edward Gibbon (1737-1794), in “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, described the devastating effects of the fire. He said:

“In the tenth year of the reign of Nero the capital of the empire was afflicted by a fire which raged beyond the memory or example of former years. The monuments of Grecian art of Roman virtue, the trophies of the Pounic and Gallic wars, the most holy temples, and the most splendid palaces were involved in one common destruction” (Gibbon, p, 456).

“F. W. Farrar, in his book, “The Early Days of Christianity,” tells us about how this spectacular event led to the great tribulation inflicted on the Christians in Rome by Nero as a result of that fire. Up until then there had been no persecution of the Christians at Rome, though, “they were sufficiently numerous to be formidable” (Farrar, p. 35). There was some question as to how the fire started, but some historians were unanimous in their writings that Nero himself started the fire. After such a magnitude of destruction, and when fingers of guilt began to point to him, Nero put the blame on Christians.”

“It is not too difficult to understand this Beastly nature when one knows the history of this man and some of the things of which he was capable. He was only seventeen years old when his mother Agrippina murdered her husband Claudius Caesar so that her darling son could become emperor (October 13, A. D. 54). Later on, Nero murdered his own mother; and as though that was not enough, murdered his brother Britannicus to make sure the throne would remain his. He kicked his wife Poppaea, whom he had taken from his friend Otho, to death. This murderous beastly nature kept growing inside of him to the end.” Farrar said:

“The depths into which he sank are too abysmal [terrible] for utterance. Even Pagan historians could not without a blush hold up a torch to those crypts of shame… the seeds of innumerable vices were latent in the soil of his disposition, and the hot-bed of absolution forced them into rank growth” (F. W. Farrar, p. 28).

“One needs to read the entire page from Farrar’s account drawn from various historical sources to see something of the utter and absolute depravity of this pagan Beast, whom the early Christians came to know as Antichrist. To him, the Christians became playthings in his murderous hands, to satisfy his insatiable desire for excitement and blood. “Tertullian says that Nero was the first who raged with the sword of Caesar against this sect, which was then specially rising at Rome.” (Apol. 5, Farrar, p, 28 footnote).

Tacitus, the Roman historian (A. D. 55-117), in his last and greatest work, The Annuls of Rome, wrote,

“But neither human resources, nor imperial generosity, nor the appeasement of the gods, eliminated sinister suspicions that the fire had been instigated. To suppress this rumor, Nero fabricated scapegoats—and punished with every refinement the notoriously depraved Christians (as they were popularly called). Their originator, Christ, had been executed in Tiberius’ reign by the governor of Judaea, Pontius Pilatus. But in spite of this temporary setback superstition had broken out afresh, not only in Judea (where the mischief had started) but even in Rome. All degraded in shameful practices collect and flourish in the capital.”

“First, Nero had self-acknowledged Christians arrested. Then, on their information, large numbers of others were condemned-not so much for incendiarism as for their anti-social tendencies. Their deaths were made to look silly. Dressed in wild animals’ skins, they were torn to pieces by dogs, or crucified, or made into torches to be ignited after dark as substitutes for daylight. Nero provided his gardens for the spectacle, and exhibited displays in the Circus, at which he mingled with the crowd-or stood in a chariot, dressed as a charioteer. Despite their guilt as Christians, and the ruthless punishment it deserved, the victims were pitied. For it was felt, that they were being sacrificed to one man’s brutality, rather than to the national interest.” (Tacitus, pp.365-366).

“Philip Schaff said of Tacitus’ account of these atrocities, “this is the account of the greatest heathen historian, the fullest we have-as the best description of the destruction of Jerusalem is from the pen of the learned Jewish historian.” (Philip Schaff, vol. 1, p. 382).

“Imagine that awful scene, once witnessed by the silent obelisk in the square before St. Peters’ in Rome! Imagine it, that we may realize how vast is the change which Christianity has produced in the feelings of mankind! There, where the vast dome now rises, were once the gardens of Nero. They were thronged with joyous crowds, among the Emperor in his playful degradation-on every side were men dying slowly on their crosses of shame. Along the paths of those gardens on the autumn nights were ghastly torches, blackening the ground beneath them with streams of sulphurous pitch, and each of those living torches was a martyr in his shirt of fire. And in the amphitheater nearby, in sight of twenty thousand spectators starving dogs were tearing to pieces some of the best and purest men and women, hideously disguised in the skins of bears and wolves. Thus did Nero baptize in the blood of the martyrs the city which was to be for ages the capital of the world!” (Farrar, p.39).

“No wonder that Nero became to Christian imagination the very incarnation of evil; the Antichrist; the Wild Beast from the abyss; the delegate of the great red Dragon, with a diadem and a name of blasphemy upon his brow….even when the infamies of a Petronius had been superseded by the murderous orgies of Gigellinus, Nero was everywhere welcome with shouts as a god of earth, and saluted on coins as Apollo, as Hercules. As ‘The Savior of the World’….! (Farrar, p.41).

“That’s the stuff I’ve been able to come up with, teacher. Thanks for letting me lead the Bible Study.” You’re welcome, young man.”

What I have shared with you folks this morning was obviously not a sermon, per se. I wanted to use Church History to give you a good idea of some of the awful horrors those first century Christians were suffering. Now I will leave you with a question to think about. WHAT IF JESUS DIDN’T RETURN?

Lord willing, next week….

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September 30, 2012 Posted by Categories: Uncategorized Tagged with:
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