Preparing for Series Three in our Romans Project
I am in the lead-in to our third season of Bible studies in Paul’s epistle to the Romans. We have completed
- Series One – Introduction and ‘Guilty’
- Series Two – ‘From Death to Life’
and now we have in prospect Series Three, Romans 9-11 that I have entitled ‘What about Israel?’ I have to admit a certain nervousness in contemplating some of the issues involved in this section. Although I don’t propose to do an in-depth study of the truths of the Return of Christ (or Parousia) it is inevitable that we shall touch on some aspects of these controversial topics. Christians, Good, godly Christians have very different views on these matters and where Christians vary so widely we do well to tread with a little humility.
The unknown unknowns
Some time ago Donald Rumsfeld avoided a question with a famous few sentences. It became famous for a while; ‘the Unknown Unknowns‘. He quoted a well-known adage that there are three areas of knowledge and ignorance.
- There are ‘known’ knowns
- There are ‘known’ unknowns. That is to say ‘there are things we do not know and we know that we do not know them’.
- There are also ‘unknown unknowns’. ‘Things that we don’t know that we don’t know.’
It caused a few moments of amusement among the news gatherers but it was not an original comment but a well known comment among project managers.
The Millennium Bug
For a few years I worked with an international bank on the Y2K issue, the Millennium Bug. Millions of pounds/dollars were spent in readying the financial world for the moment when the numbers ‘2000’ appeared in financial calculations. I won’t bore you with the details but Rumsfeld’s saying was constantly in our minds. The real danger was not the ‘known unknowns’. We had comprehensive inventories, impact analyses and ways of testing that would systematically cover the area of the ‘known unknowns’. The area that caused the greatest anxieties was that area of the ‘unknown unknown’ and more particularly how things that we didn’t know that we didn’t know would impact national and international finance.
Cosmologists and Students of Prophecy
The phrase comes to mind when considering the Biblical revelation of the Return of Christ. Some are convinced that they have sufficient data to declare watertight schedules for the Return. Some are more cautious. They are more aware of the ‘unknown unknowns’. They know that any of those unknowns may skew their precise schedules. I used to be an expert on this area. I had the charts to prove it. I have read the writings of godly Bible expositors who have boldly declared what would happen next and what would follow that. Some spent the latter years of their lives writing books to recant their earlier predictions. There is a phrase once used by a cosmologist that comes strongly to mind. “cosmologists; often in error, never in doubt.” For ‘cosmologists’ substitute the words ‘students of prophecy’ and you have another well established truth. The predictions of those I have trusted most have all unravelled. The sobering thing is the way in which those proved to be in error calmly move on to their next best-seller with a revised schedule but no apologies. ‘Often in error, but never in doubt’.
We know in part…
Some years ago I was asked to speak at the Oxford University Christian Union on 1 Thessalonians 4 and was required to sign a disclaimer that said ‘all speakers are to be aware that a wide spectrum of opinion is held among Christian students’ and requested that I undertake ‘not to offend the opinions of such’. I promised I would ‘do my best not to offend the Pre-Millennialists, or the Post-Millennielists or the Amillennielists. I would also keep in mind the Pre-Tribulationist, the Mid-Tribulationalists, the Post Tribulationalists or even the Partial Rapturists’. I suggested that if I succeeded I might consider a career among the diplomats of the United Nations. The committee was happy with the spirit of the answer and we had a good time together declaring the certainties of the Return and reminding ourselves of the ‘gaps in our data’.
I am often asked questions for which I have no answer. I try my best but frequently my sign-off contains a few initials from a statement of Paul. WKIP – we know in part…
What is the most-shared ‘encouragment’ verse in the Bible? The verse from Jeremiah 29 must be a strong contender…
Jer 29:11″For I know the thoughts that I think towards you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
It is a classic case of taking a verse out of its context and changing its original meaning.
Well meaning, false, prophets
At the time of Israel’s expatriation to Babylon there is an interesting division among the prophets. Daniel and Ezekiel, as young men, were taken captive to Babylon but Jeremiah was left behind in Jerusalem. This affects their perspective as they speak for God about the tragedy that was engulfing their nation. These three were not the only prophets. There were fake prophets too; some were left behind and some were taken captive. Some of the fake prophets set about the work of trying to raise the morale of their fellow captives. One line of their strategy was to declare that exile in Babylon was just a passing shower. Their prophecies were the equivalent of saying “don’t even unpack, you’re not staying around long enough to make it worth while.”
Back in Jerusalem Jeremiah heard the account of the false prophets and set himself to write a letter. Jeremiah 29 is the record of that letter; the first epistle of Jeremiah. His letter includes the famous verse 11, and its ‘words of comfort’. Time, I think, to take a closer look.
Time-locks and other preconditions
The previous verse sets part of the context.
For they prophesy falsely to you in My name; I have not sent them, says the LORD. For thus says the LORD: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place. Jer 29:9–10 NKJV.
These introductory verses show us that the promise of the next verse is actually time-locked. As a young man I worked in a national bank where the vaults were opened with two keys. Technically, the two key-holders could open the vault. However, the vault was on a time-lock as a security device and the vault needed both the key-holders and the correct time of day before we could swing open its great metal doors. Jeremiah’s promise is similar. It is not a verse that can be lifted from the scriptures and applied at will; it is time-locked. In Jeremiah’s case it required a further 70 years to pass before the time on the dials said ‘Now’.
And this was not the only precondition. Together with the designated time on the dial something else had to be in place. The key-holders had to do their unique work. Even the right time did not gain access; it needed the action of the key-holders. Jeremiah’s key-holders are in verse following the ‘word of comfort’.
Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. Jer 29:12–13 NKJV.
Jeremiah’s two key-holders were
- Prayer and
- a resolute Seeking for God himself.
Then, and only then, when all three conditions of designated time, prayer and heart resolution, were in place would the great doors swing back and the nation be set free.
Jeremiah’s promise is a promise certainly but it is not a promise to be ‘claimed by faith’. It is a long-range promise to be received by ‘patient endurance AND faith’. It is a promise to encourage ‘hope’. Hope is long-range faith; beyond our reach but just as certain.
Ready, steady… go!
There are promises which are to be grasped immediately by faith. They are plainly marked with today’s date.
For He says: “In an acceptable time I have heard you, And in the day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation. 2 Cor 6:2 NKJV.
Almost 70 years later Daniel read these words of Jeremiah and did some calculations;
In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of the lineage of the Medes, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans— in the first year of his reign I, Daniel, understood by the books the number of the years specified by the word of the LORD through Jeremiah the prophet, that He would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem. Then I set my face toward the Lord God to make request by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes. Dan 9:1–3 NKJV.
He checked the dates, set his face toward God and prayed earnestly. He held firm…
Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying, Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth the LORD God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah. Who is among you of all His people? May his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah, and build the house of the LORD God of Israel (He is God), which is in Jerusalem. Ezra 1:1–3 NKJV.
When God says ‘now’ we must be careful to add no preconditions. But some promises are time-locked and nested within necessary conditions. For those we must determine the time, fulfil the promises and refuse the temptation to ‘snatch’ at a prize.
For the vision is yet for an appointed time; But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; Because it will surely come, It will not tarry. Hab 2:3 NKJV.
Even ‘if it tarries’ its time will come.