Tragic Divorce of Our “Blessed Hope” from the Gospel
Somewhere in the past, a tragic divorce occurred; theologians decided we must separate the return of Jesus for His church from the proclamation of the Gospel. The results of this untimely divorce have led to a dearth of understanding among believers regarding Jesus’ appearing and the joyful hope that comes with such awareness.
We witnessed this estrangement of Bible prophecy from the Gospel in the June 19, 2019 decision of the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA). On that day, the members of the EFCA voted to remove the word “premillennial” from their statement of faith. I wrote about this decision in a post called The EFCA Turns Away from Premillennialism.
The reasoning behind this decision was that its members should unite on the essentials of the faith and not let periphery matters such as the teachings of premillennialism exclude others from their fellowship. They thus separated a literal tribulation, the millennial reign of Jesus, and the rapture from what they regarded as the essentials of the Gospel. I defended the founders of the EFCA at the time as they clearly regarded these basics of premillennialism as essential items of faith when they formed the EFCA.
Many New Testament texts connect Jesus’ imminent appearing for His church with the Gospel hope of believers (Titus 2:11-14; Phil. 3:20-21; 1 Cor. 1:7; 1 Thess. 1:8-10; 1 Cor. 15:51-55; Rom. 8:23-25). Our departure from the earth and receiving of imperishable bodies were essential elements of the Gospel hope of New Testament saints. Why has this changed so drastically in our day?
The divorce of the rapture and the Gospel has resulted in a near blackout of teaching about our “blessed hope” in most churches. This negatively impacts new believers as well as seasoned saints; it leaves them ill-prepared to live in a fear-ridden society because such teaching provides no prophetic context into which they can place the violence and lawlessness of our day or the push for a New World Order.
Reuniting the specifics of our eternal hope with the Gospel is also essential for the following reasons:
It Completes the Message of the Gospel
The book of 1 Thessalonians reveals that the hope of Jesus’ soon appearing was an essential facet of the Gospel that Paul preached during his short stay in Thessalonica. Notice what the apostle wrote about the reception of his Gospel message among the new converts:
“For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:8-10).
The immediate outcome of the Thessalonians’ saving faith was to wait for Jesus’ appearing or the rapture. Paul included the return of Jesus for His church in his preaching to them from the beginning of his time in the city. Why else would they have responded to his message by instantly focusing their expectations on Jesus’ return for them?
The new converts in Thessalonica so fixed their hope on their departure from the earth that when some in their midst died, they grieved unnecessarily thinking they would miss out on the rapture (1 Thess. 4:13-19). In response, Paul emphasized the primary place of the “dead in Christ,” telling his converts that Jesus would resurrect them first at his appearing (4:16).
In Romans 8:23, Paul identifies a key aspect of the rapture, “the redemption of our bodies,” and then says this in verse 24, “For in this hope we were saved.” Paul regarded this event we call the “rapture” as a key aspect of his preaching because it signified the “hope” contained in the saving message of the Gospel. We see a similar connection of hope to the Gospel in Colossians 1:4-5.
The “good news” of our salvation does not end with Jesus’ resurrection; it includes His return for us. Jesus promises eternal life to all who believe in Him, and that joyous new life begins with His return for us, the rapture, when He gives us immortal bodies (1 Cor. 15:51-55) and takes us to the place He has prepared for us (John 14:2-3).
It Focuses the Eyes of Believers on Their Eternal Hope
One sad result of this sorrowful divorce is that it has taken the eyes of believers away from their ultimate hope. The purposeful neglect of Bible prophecy in many churches today has resulted in the suppression of the ultimate good news of the Gospel. Very few pastors today talk about what happens at the moment Jesus returns for His church (1 Cor. 15:51-55; Phil. 3:20-21; 1 Thess. 4:16-17).
Pastors who attribute God’s promises of restoration for Israel to allegory rarely if ever talk about Jesus’ promises of physical and inner wholeness for New Testament saints that begin at the moment of our departure from the earth. They make death the expectation of the saints rather than Jesus’ glorious appearing. I once heard a pastor loudly proclaim that everyone in attendance would someday die. Such a message contradicts Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 and 1 Corinthians 15:51.
We do not know when Jesus will come for us, but as we watch the signs of the last days converge as never before, it’s not unreasonable to assume that many of us will be alive at the time. Does this not draw our eyes to Jesus and the hope of His appearing? It could happen at any moment!
The net impact of this divorce is that it focuses the eyes of believers on this life rather than that of joys ahead for them in eternity. When a teacher reconciles the Gospel and Jesus’ appearing, the saints look upward with eager anticipation (Phil. 3:20-21) rather than downward where death and despair reign. More than that, biblical prophecy puts current events in perspective.
It Preserves the Purity of the Gospel
The defense of premillennialism, which includes a belief in the rapture, a literal seven-year tribulation, and Jesus’ thousand-year reign, is a defense of the purity of the Gospel.
During the fifth century AD, the majority of those in the church switched from premillennialism to the amillennialism advocated by Augustine, which he based on the allegorization of many prophetic texts in God’s Word. Later, the church applied Augustine’s methodology to Scripture passages related to the Gospel, and the purity of its message disappeared from the organized church during what we know as the “dark ages.”
The abandonment of justification by faith in the church began centuries earlier with the allegorization of biblical texts related to the millennial promises God made to Israel.
The church in the United Kingdom provides us with a modern-day example of how such amillennialism morphs into false teaching. Although I receive several e-mails from many premillennialists who live there, the leaders of this church have long since adopted the precepts of amillennialism.
During January of 2020, churches in Scotland and England disinvited Franklin Graham to speak because of his opposition to the LBGTQ agenda. Bryan Kerr, a Church of Scotland pastor in Lanark, said this, “Franklin Graham isn’t the voice of Christianity.” The same approach to the words of Scripture that led them to deny the literal millennial reign of Jesus (Rev. 20:1-10) eroded their belief in biblical values to the point where they could no longer tolerate the Gospel message preached by Franklin Graham.
Once a pastor, church, or denomination relegates a prophetic passage to allegory, others apply this same methodology to other biblical passages, and false teaching ensues. This will surely happen to the EFCA someday if the Lord does not come for us before then.
Whether for the sake of those coming to faith in Jesus or for those already in the faith, we must reunite the message of the Gospel with our “blessed hope.” The divorce of the two has done much damage to the purity of the Gospel.
The message of the Gospel is this: Jesus died on the cross for our sins, was buried, rose again on the third day, ascended to heaven, and is coming again to give us imperishable, immortal bodies and take us to the place He has prepared for us. Jesus’ resurrection is absolutely critical to our hope, but the Gospel message does not end there. Jesus’ resurrection means that we, too, will live forever with bodies that will never grow old, get sick, or die. This is the future tense of the Gospel for all who believe.
The New Testament specifies the results of saving faith (John 3:14-18) as that of waiting for Jesus’ imminent appearing (Titus 2:11-14; Phil. 3:20-21; 1 Thess. 1:8-10), as immortality (1 Cor. 15:51-55), reigning with Jesus in His kingdom (Rev. 5:9-10), and an amazing eternity on a new earth enjoying the most beautiful city imaginable, the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21-22), where sorrow, pain, sickness, tears, and death will no longer exist.
Please do not take my words to imply that we fail to treat fellow believers with brotherly love and respect or that we bully them or their ministries because we disagree with them on our future hope. No, this is not at all what I am saying. We must respect other believers and remain “apt to teach” those who oppose the truth as we have the opportunity (2 Tim. 2:24-26). I confess that I have not always been the best at doing this with such “gentleness,” but I am learning.
My point is this: the tragic divorce of our “blessed hope” from the message of the Gospel has sadly led to a focus on temporal outcomes within the church today, the loss of an excited anticipation of Jesus’ return for us, and the loss of preserving the purity of the Gospel that sadly impacts future generations who apply the same methodology used to deny premillennialism, to other clear passages of God’s Word.
Jonathan C. Brentner
Website: Our Journey Home
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