The End-Times

The End-Times

Friday’s Column: Brent’s Bent

Brent Pollard

People all over the eschatological spectrum have been watching recent news events with bated breath. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine must be a sign of the “end-times.” To some, in the premillennial camp, Putin is an antichrist. Yes, he has military might and money. And he could undoubtedly become a global dictator ushering in “The Great Tribulation,” which those unlucky enough not to be raptured must endure before Christ sets up His earthly kingdom.  

But, to postmillennialist Pat Robertson, Putin fulfills Ezekiel’s prophecy showing that “God is getting ready to do something amazing…”1Postmillennialism is more optimistic than premillennialism with its doom and gloom of the worst trials and tribulations the world has ever seen. So, first, the world will come to Christ, more or less. (Though Robertson believes it will involve warfare.) Then Jesus will set up a kingdom on earth, and we will enjoy a golden age.  

There is a big problem with this thinking, though. We have been in the “end-times” since about the day of Pentecost A.D. 30 or 33. In Acts 2, Jesus fulfilled His promise to pour the Spirit upon the apostles (John 16.7; Acts 2.33). Thus filled with the Spirit, the apostles began speaking in tongues, languages they had never studied. We know they were languages rather than unintelligible gibberish because the people listening to them were from various places. The people wondered why they could hear these Galileans speak their native tongues. Peter told them that it was a result of the pouring out of the Spirit upon men, something the prophet Joel wrote would happen during the “last days” (Acts 2.16-21; Joel 2.28-32).   

Hence, it has been the “end-times” for about 2,000 years. And what of the kingdom? It might surprise some to hear me say that the kingdom is here. Now, I hear even someone who has only dabbled in theological studies respond, “That just makes you an amillennialist.” No, that is a misnomer. That term means “no millennium” since the prefix “a” negates the following word. It is not a denial of a period of the kingdom’s reign; instead, the Scriptures demonstrate that we are not waiting for the kingdom’s establishment. Jesus told His disciples in Mark 9.1 that there would be those listening to Him who would not die until they had seen the kingdom arrive with power. Therefore, unless there are 2,000-year-old disciples, the kingdom is with us now. 

And the kingdom’s present reality is what the Bible teaches. In Revelations, the beloved apostle John wrote that he was already in the kingdom (Revelation 1.9). Furthermore, Paul thanked God for rescuing us from the “domain of darkness” and transferring us to the “kingdom of His beloved Son.” (Colossians 1.13 NASB1995) And Jesus already sits upon His throne at the right hand of God. Note the penultimate verse of Mark’s Gospel: “So then, when the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.” (Mark16.19 NASB1995) Jesus will remain on His throne until His enemies are defeated, the last of whom is death (1 Corinthians 15.24-26). 

I have only touched the hem of the garment on this issue. There is much more to be said. However, to paraphrase Jude, I had intended to write a different article but thought I should write this one in response to all the “end-times” talk caused by Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Rather than fear the unfolding of events, take comfort in knowing that you have the ear of a King. Yes, Jesus now reigns and makes intercession for us (Romans 8.34).   

Sources Cited 

1 Warren, Steve. “’God Is Getting Ready to Do Something Amazing’: CBN Founder Pat Robertson on Russia and Its Place in Prophecy.” CBN News, CBN News, 1 Mar. 2022, www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/2022/february/god-is-getting-ready-to-do-something-amazing-founder-pat-robertson-on-russia-and-its-place-in-prophecy

Finding Refuge

Finding Refuge

Friday’s Column: Brent’s Bent 

Brent Pollard

There are days when one must turn off the news and go to the prayer closet. Current events sometimes make us uneasy, and the “if-it-bleeds-it-leads” type of yellow journalism permeates the twenty-four-hour news cycle. And while I sit here and write, the big story is the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Putin’s pretense is that Ukraine is committing genocide against the “ethnic Russians” living in Ukraine. There has been no evidence produced supporting this claim, of course, but there is evidence that pro-Russian militants have committed crimes, some violent, within Ukraine. 

In 2014, for example, Pro-Russian militants seized the building housing the Bear Valley Bible Institute of Ukraine in Horlivka. Armed men gave the brethren of the congregation assembling in the same building as the Central church of Christ three hours to remove those contents from the building the members wanted. Thankfully, no one was injured.1 But as I think of the location of the current branch of the Bear Valley Bible Institute of Ukraine2, about 50 miles southwest of Kyiv, I cannot help but be concerned for my Christian brethren impacted by the specter of war in Ukraine. After all, Russia has already bombed the Ukrainian capital.  

Then there are the less important factors than human life that produce potential anxiety. For example, what is going to happen to the price of petroleum? Authorities say it is going up. WSB in Atlanta reported that “experts” believe that the sanctions placed on Russia will cause gas prices to increase to a national average of $4 a gallon by March or April.3 Higher gas prices lead to higher transportation costs, which causes the costs of goods to increase. In a country already hit by the highest inflation in 40 years, we might view such painful side effects from trying to rein Putin as too much. 

Plus, one wonders if we now hear the renewed drumbeats of global war. Some pundits lay the blame for this at the feet of the current U.S. President, whom they claim looks weak to foreign leaders. Thus, neither Putin nor Xi Jinping may refrain from acting upon imperial ambitions. Ukraine is one thing, but what if Putin desires to reconstitute the former Soviet Union? Eventually, that would mean that Putin would invade a NATO country. We would be obliged by treaty to intervene.  

Meanwhile, soon after Putin invaded Ukraine, nine Chinese fighter jets violated Taiwan’s airspace.4 This is not the first Chinese incursion into Taiwanese airspace, but the timing is unsettling. China still believes that Taiwan belongs to China. Since 1954, we have been in a bilateral treaty with Taiwan.5 Therefore, if China invades Taiwan, we would be obliged to respond to China’s actions. Granted, we are assuming that the United States will keep the word that it has given to its treaty partners. Possibly, our leaders may try to do so economically rather than placing boots on the ground.  

During this time, when the waters of the sea roar and foam and the mountains shake, it is marvelous to know that God is our refuge. This truth is the assurance the sons of Korah provide in Psalm 46. Commentators believe the author wrote the psalm when the Moabites, Ammonites, and Edomites moved to attack the kingdom of Judah (cf. 2 Chronicles 20.1ff). King Jehosophat prayed for God’s intervention, and God replied by confusing Judah’s enemies. Those enemies ended up killing one another. When Jehosophat rose to face them as God commanded, he found every one of them dead. Thus, God was Judah’s refuge. 

Turning our attention once more to Psalm 46, we note three quick points. First, God is our place of refuge when everything around us seems insecure (1-3). Thus, we are told not to fear (2). When we look at the boisterous sea rather than our Lord, we will quickly sink as Peter when he joined Jesus walking on the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 14.30). Therefore, we must increase our faith (Matthew 14.31). So, there is no reason to feel insecure when the God of peace is with us (Romans 15.33). 

Second, God provides us with a walled city (i.e., stronghold) secured by a flowing river of life  (4-7). There is debate whether this is a picture of Heaven. Indeed, Heaven has its River of Life. But it was a tactic of siege warfare to cut a walled city off from food and water sources. One such siege by Sennacherib led Hezekiah to construct a tunnel to bring water to Jerusalem (2 Kings 20.20; 2 Chronicles 32). Despite Sennacherib’s bravado, Hezekiah knew that his people would not cry out from thirst. Providence would spare them. Martin Luther, reading Psalm 46.7, was moved to pen the hymn “Ein Feste Burg ist Unser Gott” (“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”). Yes, we find in God that bulwark that is never failing.  

Third, God will provide us with what man cannot (8-11). Sometimes we try and solve things on our own. When we feel exasperated, we might even look to our fellow man for answers. It seems that we look around everywhere but to where we should. To this practice, God tells us, “Stop!” The NASB1995 renders it, “Cease striving and know that I am God” (46.10). God will be exalted! And indeed, we see His mighty works that attest to His great power. The sons of Korah tell us in conclusion that God is with us. 

Our world feels like a crazy place now. I recently commented that it feels more like 1938 than 2022. In 1938, Adolph Hitler annexed Austria to reabsorb the “ethnic Germans.” In the United States, Americans were still struggling to overcome the Great Depression. So, current events do seem comparable. But, by God’s help, we survived that turbulent time, and we will also live through an uncertain future. God is in control, and He tells us that He will provide us with refuge. So, we must cease our striving and enter it.  

Sources Cited 

1                     Tryggestad, Erik. “Church Building Seized (Updated).” The Christian Chronicle, The Christian Chronicle, 25 May 2014, christianchronicle.org/pro-russian-militants-seize-church-of-christ-building-in-eastern-ukraine-during-sunday-worship/

2                    “Ukraine.” Bear Valley Bible Institute, Bear Valley Bible Institute of Denver , www.wetrainpreachers.com/ukraine.  

3                    “Experts Say to Expect Gas to Hit at Least $4 a Gallon over Ukraine Invasion.” WSB, Cox Media Group, 25 Feb. 2022,www.wsbtv.com/video/local-video/experts-say-expect-gas-hit-least-4-gallon-over-ukraine-invasion/9fa41005-9f2f-400e-a20f-5ce2a25d2b75/

4                    Olson, Wyatt. “Chinese Fighter Jets Sortie into Taiwan’s Air Zone on Heels of Ukraine Invasion.” Stars and Stripes, Stars and Stripes, 24 Feb. 2022, www.stripes.com/theaters/asia_pacific/2022-02-24/taiwan-fighter-jets-airspace-chinese-aircraft-ukraine-russia-5134525.html

5                    Ward, Alvin. “67 Countries the U.S. Is Obliged to Go to War For.” Mental Floss, Mental Floss, 7 Feb. 2015,www.mentalfloss.com/article/65816/67-countries-us-obliged-go-war

“Christianity Is Not Communist”

“Christianity Is Not Communist”

Friday’s Column: Brent’s Biblical Bytes

Brent Pollard

This article requires a preface. Christianity is apolitical. Were our Savior in the voting booth, He would not have a party affiliation. Though I cannot say Jesus Christ would stand with David Lipscomb, advocating Christians abstain entirely from political involvement, I know our Lord would remind us that the Father establishes the governments of men (cf. Daniel 2.20-21;4.17,25; Romans 13.1ff). Frankly, I cannot imagine our Emmanuel casting a ballot. However, I think He would still be concerned by a government allowing abortion on demand and loose sexual ethics since these things subvert God’s Will. 

2020 is, of course, an election year in the United States, and it is safe to say that the world is watching to see how this election will turn out. Obviously, other governments have preferences about whom they would rather work with on the global stage. Vladimir Putin of Russia is no different. On October 7, 2020, various news outlets reported Putin’s statement about the upcoming election. Putin stated he could see himself working well with a Joe Biden Administration since the latter’s party shared “common values” with the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Gehrke). One may recall that Putin was a member of the communist party and KGB officer (Wiki).

Despite what you may be anticipating, I am not using Putin’s “endorsement” as a means to influence the American reader to vote for “the other guy.” I am taking issue with Putin’s words that these shared values are akin to “Christian values” (Swindoll). Unfortunately, there is a lie that primitive Christianity was communist. This misunderstanding is an extrapolation from the benevolence of the early church. Yes, Christians are said to have held all things, including their property, in common (Acts 4.32). Yet, context is critical. There was no mandate to forfeit personal, worldly property to the leadership of the church. In communism, by contrast, the State (i.e., leadership) owns all capital.   

After Barnabas gave the proceeds from his real estate sale to the Apostles (Acts 4.36-37), Ananias and Sapphira also sold their property (Acts 5.1). Acts 5 records how Ananias and Sapphira decided to keep a portion of their profit but lie about the size of their donation to the church’s coffers. They told the Apostles that they were giving all. Peter exposed their lie. In addition to his rebuke of the foolish pair, which included their sudden deaths, Peter said, “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5.4 NASB—emphasis mine).  Note that Ananias and Sapphira maintained ownership of their capital in contradiction to socialist dogma. 

We think Paul went on his journeys to found local congregations of the Lord’s church, but God tasked Paul with collecting aid for the brethren of Jerusalem and Judea during a famine (Acts 11.27-30). As Paul instructed these new local congregations about their contributions (cf. 1 Corinthians 16.1-2), he told them God did not want them to feel compelled to give. They were to provide as they purposed in their hearts cheerfully (2 Corinthians 9.7). Like the Macedonians, some presented themselves to God so that they could give despite their poverty (2 Corinthians 8.1-5). Others, however, such as the Achaeans, were able to give more freely. Hence, Paul used the example of the Macedonians to encourage the Achaeans of Corinth to be liberal with their giving (2 Corinthians 8.10-15). 

So, I am sorry, Mr. Putin, that you have confused communist values with Christian values. Christianity is not communist. The church can be benevolent without being socialist and should be (cf. Matthew 25.31ff). 

Sources Cited 

Gehrke, Joel. “Putin Touts ‘Common Values’ Shared by Democrats and Communists.” Washington Examiner, Washington Examiner, 7 Oct. 2020, www.washingtonexaminer.com/policy/defense-national-security/putin-touts-common-values-shared-by-democrats-and-communists

“Vladimir Putin.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 15 Oct. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vladimir_Putin

Swindoll, Jeffrey. “Putin Favorably Compares Biden, Democrats to Soviet Communists.” Disrn, Disrn, LLC, 10 Oct. 2020, 14:48, disrn.com/news/putin-favorably-compares-biden-democrats-to-soviet-communists

“Freedom Is Not A Luxury. It Is A Necessity”

“Freedom Is Not A Luxury. It Is A Necessity”

Neal Pollard

Earlier today, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko spoke to a joint-session of the United States Congress. It was an impassioned plea, from beginning to end, as he spoke in his broken English about the trials his people have endured for many months now.  He gave poignant examples of brave men who were killed for their courageous stand against ruthless enemies.  One of his imploring calls for help invoked our own past path as a nation and our pursuit of liberty.  It was about then that he exclaimed, “Freedom is not a luxury. It is a necessity!”

Poroshenko was speaking not of the Ukrainians but of the Russian people, who he believed had been fed the idea that freedom is a luxury that they should not necessarily expect to enjoy.  He rebutted such a view.  We have such a hard time in our nation comprehending life in a land where freedom is such an elusive commodity. But, for those people, it is a daily battle!

In the spiritual sense, this stated idea is most true and important. Sin is a horrible dictator and master, brutalizing and bringing death to those who are under its power. Eternity is in the balance for us.  Will we leave this life as free men and women or as slaves?  What makes this so much more paramount is that it is harder to discern spiritual bondage than physical bondage.  We may think ourselves perfectly free all while toiling in the chains of darkness!

Paul made his own impassioned plea to the saints at Galatia.  He wrote them, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty with which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (5:1).  Can you imagine a nation or even an individual who had endured torture and seen loved ones murdered now enjoying the rights and privileges of freedom but volunteering to return to that former way of life?  It is unthinkable, unless we speak in the spiritual sense.  People continue to run toward and embrace the enslaver of souls.  To any one, we would implore, “Freedom is not a luxury. It is a necessity!”

Simon Ostrovsky’s Courage

Simon Ostrovsky’s Courage

 

Neal Pollard

Perhaps you have seen YouTube or Vice News videos featuring Simon Ostrovsky’s behind the scenes reports of the escalating crisis in eastern Ukraine as well as earlier reports in Crimea.  On April 21, at a police checkpoint in Sloviansk, Ostrovsky was detained and held in a squalid holding area for four days, beaten a couple of times, and interrogated by his captors. He has been released now and is seeking press credentials before considering reentering this city in Ukraine that has been the center of gun battles and alleged protestor deaths.  While I am unsure of Ostrovsky’s political ideology and he does not appear to have deep religious convictions, I admire his courage and perseverance.  He believes in the importance of media rights and the ability to give uncensored reports of happenings there and he is willing to risk and sacrifice on behalf of those convictions.  The fact that he wants to remain in Ukraine and report on this ongoing, changing international situation is remarkable, a tribute to his fearlessness.

It is hard for us to imagine today what the early Christians went through to defend something greater even than national freedom and civil rights. Disciples of Christ were persecuted (cf. Acts 8:4; 2 Tim. 3:12; Heb. 10:34; Rev. 2:10) and even killed for serving Him (Acts 7:58-59).  Yet, the courage they so often demonstrated in the face of such things is incredible!  They sang in prison after being beaten (Acts 16:22ff).  They rejoiced after they were flogged, “that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41).  Paul, oft-recipient of physical persecution, wrote the Thessalonians, saying that their persecutions and afflictions were “a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that you will be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering” (2 Th. 1:5).

The mood and spirit in our country has certainly changed regarding faith in the Christ of the Bible.  There could come a day when you and I might have to muster the courage to stand before those with the power to imprison, torture, or even kill us for standing up for Jesus.  However, as the world’s mindset encroaches more and more into our lives and culture, we must maintain the courage to stand up for Him even when we must stand for the unpopular and even stand alone while doing it.  It takes uncommon courage to remain distinct and loyal to our Lord, no matter what people say and do.  Let us learn a lesson from Mr. Ostrovsky.  Let us have the courage of our convictions and conquer the fears that might keep us from doing our “job” as Christians!