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Romans Lesson 115 - Exit Strategy

Romans Lesson 115 - Exit Strategy

Ref: Romans 11:25–32

At one point in time, the loudest voices proclaiming the world is coming to an end were ragged, half-crazed street preachers who wore billboards over their shoulders and screamed at passersby! But nowadays, that message is also being proclaimed on the lips of secular scientists, scholars, and media personnel. No longer is it taboo to say that the earth will one day come to an end. That fact has become 'scientific.' The only question that still remains is, 'What will our exit strategy be?'

Transcript

Exit Strategy

Romans 11:25-32

I received a wall street article recently from a fellow student in Colonial that often passes on to me articles that may serve as illustrations – which I highly value.  It keeps me from having to read a lot of unnecessary stuff and it keeps me aware of certain issues and events.

By the way, if you read a magazine article or newspaper article that you think might fit with some subject of Biblical application or illustration, please send me a copy.  Just don’t ask me for a response or I’ll never have time to read.

This article tweaked my interest and after just a little research came up with several other articles that used this phrase, “exit strategy”.

One article talked about our “exit strategy from Iraq”. 

The author proposed 3 steps which needed to be taken.  He warned however, that exiting Iraq would require coordination, dedication and planning.  As if we couldn’t have guessed that all by ourselves.

Another use of the phrase, “exit strategy” was related to the selling of a business – which basically dealt with how to sell your business and get the most out of it as you exit.

This particular article from my friend had an interesting twist.

The physicist wrote in the commentary section, “One of the hottest topics being debated in D.C. is an exit strategy from Iraq.  But no matter how difficult this may be, physicists are struggling with an even greater exit strategy.  The latest data from space satellites are unmistakable; the universe will eventually die – in a Big Freeze.  Galaxies are being pushed apart.  Some day, when looking heavenward, we’ll be quite lonely, with other galaxies too far away to be observed.  Worse, it will be deathly cold.  As the universe accelerates, temperatures will plunge throughout the universe.  Billion of years from now, the stars will have exhausted heir nuclear fuel, the oceans will freeze, the sky will become totally dark, and the universe will consist of dead neutron stars, black holes, and nuclear debris.  Is all intelligent life on earth doomed to die with the universe itself perishes?  It seems as if the iron laws of physics have issued a death warrant.  But there’s still one possible exist strategy; the leave the universe itself.  Do the laws of physics allow for the creation of wormholes connecting our universe to a younger, more hospitable universe?  In 2021, a new space probe, LISA (Laser Interferometer Space Antenna) will be launched which may be able to prove or disprove these conjectures.  Can a gateway be built to connect our universe with another?  For intelligent life, there is no choice.  Either we leave for [another] universe, or we die in the old one.

The Wall Street Journal Online, “Huddled up with LISA” January 20, 2005

How good is this?  Huh?  I love it when the Wall Street Journal preaches our message.  Although it came up with the wrong conclusion . . . it has the right idea.

Planet earth and the universe around it will not last forever.

According to the I Peter 3, we’re told that God didn’t create it to last forever.  Listen as Peter explains:

“. . . by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water,  6. through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water.  7.  But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men . . . in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up . . . the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat!  13.  But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.

The physicist is right . . . intelligent life needs an exit strategy!

But he’s wrong on how and why.  According to the Bible, the present heavens and the earth are headed, not for a big freeze, but a big fire.

The judgment of God is reserved until that point in which everything will be destroyed.

What hope does humanity have, with a dying planet and a condemned universe and a God not only powerful enough to destroy it, but promising to do just that?

What’s God’s exit strategy for the human race?

As the Apostle Paul brings his discussion on the nation Israel to a close in Romans chapter 11, he provides several insights into God’s plan for the ages – God’s exit strategy for His people that  has been unfolding now for centuries.

Three thoughts about this strategy:

First, for the Gentiles, it is an ongoing gathering (v. 25)

Notice verse 25.  For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery.

This “musterion.” Refers to the plan and purpose of God which was hidden in the past and impossible for human beings to discover apart from further revelation from God.

Rienecker/Rogers, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, (Zondervan/Regency, 1976), p. 374

In  other words, prior to Paul writing on this mystery, there wasn’t any way anybody could figure it out on their own.

The word is used several times in the New Testament to refer to truth, previously not known or known but not fully understood.

  • The mystery of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 13)
  • The mystery of the union of Jews and Gentiles into one body (Ephesian 3:3)
  • The mystery of the temporary setting aside of the nation Israel (Romans 11)
  • The mystery of Christ and His bride (Ephesians 5:32)
  • The mystery of the rapture (1 Corinthians 15:51)
  • The mystery of lawlessness and the anti-Christ (2 Thessalonians 2:7)
  • And so forth.

And what’s the mystery Paul intends to explain here? 

v. 25b.  that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.

The exit strategy of God for the Gentile is this ongoing ingathering of believers . . . Paul refers to it as the fullness of the Gentiles become finished. 

The completion of the bride of Christ – largely a Gentile bride, initiates the returned focus of God on Israel.  Just as the salvation of Israel – that is the remnant that survives the tribulation and sees Christ coming in the clouds – that will initiate the literal thousand year kingdom.

Now, this isn’t a course of  prophecy, but I can’t resist entirely.

You need to understand that the New Testament refers to the times of the Gentiles and the fullness of the Gentiles.

They are two different things.

The times of the Gentiles have to do with the period which began with Gentile Rule through Nebuchadnezzar and ends at the literal return of Christ to defeat His enemies and assume the throne of David.

In other words, the “times of the Gentiles” refers to political domination.

The fullness of the Gentiles refers to this present dispensation, during which God’s Spirit is calling primarily a Gentile bride for God’s Son.  Peter addressed this at the beginning of the church era when he said in Acts 15:14, “God is visiting the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name.”

John Phillips, Exploring Romans (Moody Press, 1969). P175

The times of the Gentiles refers to political domination.  But the fullness of the Gentiles refers to spiritual deliverance. . . the calling of Gentiles chosen by God who make up the bride of Christ.

Notice again that Paul says in verse 25b. that the hardening of Israel will last until the fullness of the Gentiles.” In other words, when the bride of Christ is completed, the focus on Gentiles ends and the focus returns to the nation Israel.

This present age is a period of Gentile ingathering.  And Paul clearly says it’s going to end.  “The fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” 

Now, according to many other passages, between verse 25 and verse 26 of Romans 11 a number of things are going to take place:

  • The rapture of the church (I Thessalonians 4)
  • The rise of Antichrist (2 Thessalonians 2)
  • The tribulation and purification Israel (Daniel 12 and Zechariah 13)
  • The sealing and explosive ministry of Jewish evangelists who turn the remnant of Israel toward the gospel of Messiah.

 

The hardening of Israel to the gospel will remain until Christ’s church is completed and the New Testament saints are raptured to heaven.

We happen to be waiting for the next event on the prophetic calendar – the rapture of this completed bride of Christ.

Paul expected it to happen in his own lifetime.  He writes to the Thessalonian believers, “For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.  16.  For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  17.  Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up (the Latin verb is the word rapturo – from which we get our word “rapture – caught away”) together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.

How’s that for the ultimate exit strategy!

Talk about a strange doctrine to our world today!  People vanishing into thin air.

One man recently wrote Christianity Today of his amazement that anybody would believe such a thing.  He wrote, “Seriously people!  Hoping the rapture will happen won’t make it happen.  Wanting to believe it will happen won’t make it happen.  We can speculate until the cows come home about what will happen. There is no room in the laws of physics for people to vanish into thin air.”

Oh?

What about the physicist I read from earlier who thinks there are parallel universes we can’t even see.  And our only hope is to somehow travel from one dimension to the next.

That’s his hope . . . this is mine (hold up the Bible).

This is my exit strategy!

Now just when will the rapture take place?

And how does it fit within the events of the tribulation and future kingdom?

My short answer is that the rapture occurs sometime before the tribulation period begins. 

Paul writes to the Corinthian believers about rapture and says in chapter 15:51.  Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed,  52.  in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.

In first Thessalonians we have a reference to a shout which precedes or accompanies the rapture . . . here we have a reference to the last trumpet.

I believe both the shout and the trumpet can only be understood in light of Jewish and Roman culture.

The rapture and future of the church parallels a Jewish wedding, remarkably well.

Jesus Christ explained to his disciples in John 14 that he was going away to prepare a place for them in His father’s house.  He would then come to receive them and take them back to the Father’s house and they would remain by His side forever.

This analogy of this promise to a Jewish wedding process in Christ’s day is remarkable.

In the days of Christ, a bridegroom traveled from His father’s house to the home of the prospective bride, where he would negotiate the purchase price for his bride.  Once the price was established and the bridegroom paid the purchase price (the mohar), the marriage covenant was established and the young man and woman were betrothed – literally considered husband and wife.  From this moment on, the bride was declared to be set apart for her bridegroom.

After the marriage covenant was established, the groom left his bride at her home and returned to his father’s house, where he literally built on to his father’s house a home for his bride.  This also afforded the bride an opportunity to prepare herself and her trousseau for married life.

At the end of an undesignated time of separation, the groom came – usually at night to take his bride to live with him.  The groom the best man, and other male attendants left the groom’s father’s house and would conduct a happy, festive torch-lit journey to the home of the bride.  Also though the bride was expecting her groom to come for her, she didn’t know the exact time of his arrival.  As a result, the groom’s arrive would be preceding by shouting.   It definitely woke up the neighborhood.  In fact, the neighborhood usually joined in as the groom received his bride and her attendants and now, an enlarged wedding party returned from the bride’s home to the groom’s father’s house.  Before too long the couple were escorted to the bridal chamber (the huppah) where the marriage was physically consummated.  Once, consummated, the feasting began. 

The wedding guests, the families and extended guests enjoyed 7 days of feasting together while the bride and groom enjoyed a private 7 day honeymoon.

After 7 days, the bride and groom reappear, with the bride, for the first time unveiled for all the wedding guests to see.

The analogy is not hard to follow:

Christ has come to pay the purchase price – Paul wrote, “Don’t you know that you are not your own; you’ve been bought with a price . . . (I Corinthians 6:19-20)

Just as the Jewish bride was declared set apart after the price had been paid, so the church has been declared sanctified or set  apart exclusively for Christ (Ephesians 5:25-27).

The promise of Christ to leave his Father’s house and come and receive them and take them back to His prepared home for them is perfectly analogous to the groom going and getting his bride and taking her back to the place he has built for their new family.

In the same way that the Jewish groom’s arrival was preceded by a shout, so Christ’s arrival to take the church home will be preceded by a shout (1 Thessalonians 4:16).

Christ and the church remain hidden for 7 years, celebrating the feasting of the marriage supper and other events; this is perhaps illustrated in the 7 days of honeymoon for the Jewish bride and groom.

Then, after 7 days, just as the bride and groom appeared with the bride unveiled, so Christ shall appear and we will appear with him in glory (Colossians 3:4).

Wedding analogy adapted from Renald Showers, Maranatha: Our Lord, Come! (The Friends of Israel, 1995), p. 164

This analogy supports the view called pre-tribulationalism.

You need to know that for the test.

There is a view called post-tribulationalism which believes Christ will do all this after the tribulation. 

Let me slow down and define these views:

The pretribulational view believes the rapture will occur pre-tribulation – or, before the tribulation.

The posttribulational view holds that the rapture will occur post-tribulation – after the tribulation.

There are some pre-tribulationalists who are so committed they won’t even eat post-toasties.

The problem with the post-tribulational view is the number of scriptures that promise the church a deliverance from the wrath or judgment of God.

1 Thessalonians 1:10 clearly states that Jesus Christ will, “Deliver us from the wrath to come.”  From the wrath – ek – literally out of the wrath, not through the wrath, but removed from the wrath of God.  Later on in chapter 5 verse 9, we’re told that God has not ordained [the church] for wrath.   

That’s parallel language to Revelation 3:10 where the church is promised to be kept from the hour of testing, John writes, “that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell upon the earth.”

The post-tribulationalist will respond somewhat cynically to the pre-tribulationalist by saying, “You want to interpret these passages the way you do simply because you don’t want to experience the wrath of God unleashed on the earth.”

Hey – they’re right?!  You better believe it!

And I happen to believe salvation is deliverance from the wrath of God in any form.  Discipline and wrath . . . persecution and God’s wrath are two different things.

But let’s not be so Western in our interpretation of scripture.  To say that I’m a pre-tribulationalist because I don’t want the church to go through tribulation would be to ignore what’s happening around the world right now.  Tell that to the Chinese believer.  “Hey, you want to believe in a pre-tribulational rapture because you want to escape trouble.”  He’d say, “What do you call this that I’m currently enduring.” Tell that to the Sudanese believer.  They are experiencing incredible tribulation.

They long to be rescued from their persecutors.

But that tribulation they are currently enduring is different from the tribulation described in Revelation where billions of people will die in a few years time.

Let me quickly give you one more view:

Another view regarding the rapture of the church is the pre-wrath rapture.  This view divides the tribulation into three sections and claims that the church is raptured before the third section of the tribulation which begins with the breaking of the seventh seal and the outpouring of divine wrath.

They claim that the wrath of God doesn’t really occur until past the midway point of the tribulation and therefore the church can be raptured well within the time of tribulation and still not experience the great wrath of God.

The trouble with this view is that the first 6 seals that the church evidently experiences, is certainly considered by Revelation to be a time of wrath.  John writes in Revelation 6, before the seventh seal is broken, “And they said to the mountains and to the rocks, “fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb;  17.  for the great day of their wrath has come.”

One interesting point is the fact that Paul speaks of the rapture in I Corinthians 15 as an event preceded by the last trumpet.

But in Revelation, there are trumpets blown during the tribulation, to signal special wrath from God.

In other words, how can we be raptured before the tribulation with the sound of the last trumpet, if trumpets are going to be sounded during the tribulation?

Obviously the last trumpet isn’t the last trumpet.

The answer lies within our historical approach to scripture.

First of all, Paul didn’t explain to the Corinthians what he meant when he talked about the rapture being preceded by the last trumpet, because they didn’t need an explanation.

If it was as complicated as the pre-wrath folks teach, they would have needed an explanation about where this particular trumpet blast fit within the 7th seal.

Secondly, the Book of Revelation hadn’t been written yet, so they wouldn’t have known about the seven trumpets of the seventh seal.

There are at least two explanations to why the Corinthians didn’t need an explanation.

First: many believe this last trumpet fit within the framework of the Jewish Feast of Trumpets.  The Jewish practice involved blowing trumpets at this feast each year.  During the ceremony, there was a series of short trumpet blasts of various lengths, concluding with the longest blast of all, called the “tekiah gedolah” or the last trump. 

Judaism connected this last trump with the resurrection of the dead, and so does Paul. So, from this Jewish perspective, Paul is simply saying the Rapture will be the fulfillment of the Feast of Trumpets when the dead in Christ shall rise first, Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with these resurrected saints, to meet the Lord in the air.  (I Thessalonians 4:16-17)

The other explanation lies in the Roman culture. 

In I Corinthians 14, the chapter just before Paul’s reference to the last trumpet, Paul refers to the military trumpet.  He said, “If the trumpet does not giver a distinctive or definite sound, the troops will not prepare for battle.” (I Corinthians 14:8)

In Paul’s day, the Roman army as called to battle by the first trumpet.  One author wrote, “It called the soldiers together to go forth to battle, while the last trumpet which made a deep sound signaled them to end the battle and reassemble to return to camp or to return home.”

In other words, the phrase, “the last trumpet of God,” may have been understood as a military expression.  It isn’t the last time a trumpet is sounded, but is will be that trumpet sound which signals the end of the battle.  This is the trumpet that signals the end of believer’s battle against Satan and His forces.  He can take off his helmet and breastplate . . . he doesn’t need his weapons any more . . . he’s being called to assemble with Christ to go home!

Adapted from Showers, p. 285

Either perspective, Jewish or Roman, explains that the end of the Gentile ingathering is marked by a trumpet call from the bridegroom and a shout that He’s on His way – and the church is taken up, back to the Father’s house and the judgment of God on planet earth which results in Israel’s redemption begins.

Here’s the exit strategy – for the Gentiles, it’s the rapture – and for now, it’s still an ongoing gathering.

But one day it will end – when the bride of Christ is complete – are you part of it?!

Are you a member of church – the bride of Christ?!

Secondly, for the Jews, the strategy of God is a soon coming kingdom (v. 26-27)

The kingdom will last 1,000 years. Those Jews who survive the tribulation will comprise the nation Israel . . . even though millions of them, like half the population of the world is killed.

This Jewish remnant will be a testimony of God’s faithfulness – He has kept His covenant – there will be Israel’s promised land.

While a Gentile believer is called at times a son of Abraham, or a true Israelite – these expressions relate to the fact that we Gentile believers are related to the God of Abraham.  We too are people of God by our faith.

Nowhere does this mean that Israel is now dissolved.

In fact, the very thing covenant theology does, in the dissolving of Israel’s future, is warned against at the beginning of this paragraph.  Look back to verse 25b.  Don’t be wise in your own estimation – that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles.

It’s only temporary!  The Gentile is not to become presumptuous or proud in believing he has replaced the Israel.

Israel will have their land . . . their throne . . . their temple . . . their King.

One more point to God’s end-time strategy:

Thirdly, for the world at large, God’s strategy is an oft-repeated invitation (28-32)

You’ll find the word “mercy” several times in the last few verses of this paragraph. 

Notice verse 30.  For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, 31.  so these also now have been disobedient, that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy.  32.  For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all.

If I could summarize Romans chapter 11 with three statements it would be these:

  • The Aim of God is unstoppable
  • The Assurances from God are irrevocable
  • Our Appointment with God is inescapable.

Eventually every living human being of all time will have his appointment with God.

It is appointed unto man, once to die and after that the judgment.

For the believer it will be the judgment seat of Christ – where Christ will reward the believer’s righteous deeds.

For the unbeliever, it will be the great white throne judgment where God will condemn him for his unbelief.  He had creation and he ignored it.  He had his conscience and he violated it.  He worshipped tangible gods and refused to acknowledge Creator God.

There will be no mercy then.  Forever too late.

But for now – while you’re here and listening in the midst of Christ’s still incomplete bride – there is hope.  Who knows – you may be the last member to be added . . . don’t wait.

You’re holding us all back!  Don’t hold up the party!

Now!  Accept the invitation to place your faith in Christ alone.

Get out of the funeral procession of the world, heading for the land of eternal dying and get into the wedding procession, heading for the land of eternal life.

Earlier I read the question asked by an intelligent, bright, desperately concerned, physicist.

“Can a gateway be built to travel from our universe to another?”  The answer is, yes.

Jesus Christ said, “Don’t be troubled . . . I am going to my Father’s house to build a place for you . . . and I’ll come back and take you to be with me, that where I am there you will be also.”

It’s true – even though there are those who tell us it won’t happen.  Some day . . . one day . . . maybe this day . . . the believer will disappear! 

How’s that for an exit strategy . . . being whisked away . . . a new home . . . and new earth . . . a new heaven (Revelation 21).

Accept Him, before you die and it’s too late, or, before the trumpet sounds and the church vanishes into thin air.

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