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Donald Rumsfeld and the Return of Christ

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

  1. Series One – Introduction and ‘Guilty’
  2. 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.

  1. There are ‘known’ knowns
  2. There are ‘known’ unknowns. That is to say ‘there are things we do not know and we know that we do not know them’.
  3. 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…

Wait for it…

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

  1. Prayer and
  2. 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.

If we say we have no sin… Part 3

Getting Real

There is one more element we need to add to complete the ‘context’ of 1 John. Four hundred years before Christ a Greek philosopher had taught ideas of form and reality. Plato used a famous illustration to make his point. I’ll leave you follow the link if you want to see it through but it left a residue in thinking that has its part to play in the context of 1 John. For a large part of the Greek thinking and speaking population the word Truth meant not only accurate data but Reality as distinct from Shadow and Appearance. Bible scholars have discussed this for centuries and I’m not going to add to the number other than to say try an experiment. Take some of the sayings of Christ;

God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. John 4:24 NKJV.

Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. John 6:32 NKJV.

And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. John 8:32 NKJV.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. John 14:6 NKJV.

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. John 15:1 NKJV.

“But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me. John 15:26 NKJV.

And we can continue the theme into John’s epistles…

If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 1 John 1:6 NKJV.

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 1 John 1:8 NKJV.

He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 1 John 2:4 NKJV.

Again, a new commandment I write to you, which thing is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining. 1 John 2:8 NKJV.

In fact, in John’s epistles he uses the words true and truth no less than 26 times; 1 John 1:6, 8; 2:4, 8, 21, 27; 3:18–19; 4:6; 5:6, 20; 2 John 1:1, 3–4; 3 John 1:1, 3–4, 8, 12. Now the experiment. Try replacing the word true or truth with the words real or reality. I John is a ‘reality check’. John will not suffer the profession of a man or woman whose life does not substantiate that profession. There are technical words for this. Right thinking/teaching is orthodoxy; straight praise, straight thinking. Right action is orthopraxy; straight doing/practice/action. Our word practise comes from the Greek work praxos; acts, doings, practice.

in the cross-hairs

So who are the ‘antichrists’ in John’s cross-hairs? They are manipulators of reality. They are those who deny the historical reality of Christ’s physical incarnation and they deny the moral reality of orthopraxy in harmony with orthodoxy.

50 years or so ago A.W. Tozer had a similar group in his cross-hairs. He attacked what he called ‘textualism’; the notion that because we have the word we have the thing. We are not justified by correct theology but by faith. Or as some of the old puritans used to say ‘we are justified by faith, but faith is justified by practice’. ‘We are’ they liked to say ‘saved by faith alone’ but would often add ‘but real faith is never alone’. The pattern of our life reveals the reality of our faith… or otherwise. To say one thing and live another demonstrates that the faith is not the genuine article.

When writing to Timothy Paul refers to, in the older versions, ‘faith unfeigned’.

Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith, 1 Tim 1:5 NKJV.

The word translated ‘sincere’ here is literally ‘without hypocrisy‘. Why would Paul need to specify that faith must be ‘without hypocrisy’? Simply because there is another kind of faith that is not the genuine article. There is the continuing danger of fake-faith, pseudo-faith. The Greek word ‘hypocrite’ is the word for someone who is acting, someone who is not being real; we are back to John’s demand for reality. So John will now target those who ‘say’ but do not ‘do’. Those who have all the right words and know them by heart but whose lives do not match their profession.

If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 1 John 1:6 NKJV.

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 1 John 1:8 NKJV.

If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. 1 John 1:10 NKJV.

He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 1 John 2:4 NKJV.

He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked. 1 John 2:6 NKJV.

He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. 1 John 2:9 NKJV.

If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? 1 John 4:20 KJV.

Now we are clear as to just who John has in mind, we are ready to expound this passage of scripture.


If we say we have no sin… Part 2

If we move through John Wycliffe’s version of Inductive Bible Study one of our next questions will have to be ‘to whom’ was this said. With some of the epistles this is an easy question to answer as the epistles frequently start with the name of the sender and the name of the intended recipient. It is not quite so obvious with 1 John but there are sufficient clues to give us a working hypothesis.

Us and Them

We have an unusual verse in the second chapter.

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us. 1 John 2:19 NKJV.

This verses, in this English version has 12 pronouns. Seven times we read of ‘they’ and 5 times we read of ‘us’. Biblical Greek works somewhat differently from English but this translation is justified. The verse is making a stark distinction between two groups of people. It will help in our understanding of 1 John if we can identify the two groups. (more…)

If we say that we have no sin… Part 1

For those who passionately believe that the ‘blood of Jesus Christ’ can cleanse the acknowledged perpetrator from ‘all sin’ there is a question that is often asked.

In 1 John we read…

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 1 John 1:8 NKJV.

Surely, say the questioners, this verse shows the continual universality of sin. It is a comprehensive statement relating to the whole human race, and as it is in the present tense, it declares that ‘sin’ lurks in every breast, no matter how holy a man or woman might be and no matter what ‘higher’ (or deeper) experience he claims. (more…)

biblebase Romans Project

During the winter months of 2013-2014 we began a Bible Study project as part of our biblebase online bible school; we called the series the ‘Romans Project’. The project was designed to cover at least three winter sessions. The sessions included a public presentation followed by questions and we published the sessions on YouTube. The sessions were held in my own home and we planned to make provision for our discussions to be continued online for any who wished to take part.

We concluded the first term at the end of March in 2014.

We plan to recommence in November but with a change of venue and timing. The sessions will be held at ‘New Covenant Church’ Bracknell and will take place on the 2nd  and 4th Thursdays of each month, ending in March 2015. More details will follow but if you would like to join us for the public sessions please make a note in your diaries. You will be warmly welcome.

Romans Project – 2nd term

Venue: New Covenant Church, Bracknell, Berkshire

Dates: 2nd and 4th Thursdays from November 2014 through to March 2015. 

Time: 7:30 start for a 1 hour session

If you would like a glimpse of the format of the study please check out this introduction…

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