Understanding the Prophecies About the Return of Jesus
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CHAPTER 1: THE CHALLENGE
“Choose for yourselves today whom you will serve.” Joshua 24:15
It had been a difficult time for the four men. When they were not yet teenagers the invading armies of Nebuchadnezzar conquered their land and subjected their people to a harsh rule. They themselves were torn from their families and everything that was familiar, and taken hundreds of miles to a strange city in a strange land to live in the court of this conqueror.
In the midst of this tragedy they had three choices. They could react and lament the injustice of what had happened. They were, after all, just victims of something for which they bore no responsibility. Or, they could try to make the best of the situation and be assimilated into the culture and life of the court. Life in the court had its advantages, but if they did that they would have to give up their own identity and heritage as God’s people. Finally, they could be redemptive, seeking God’s hand and how He was going to use them in this situation. Of the three choices, this one was the most difficult and the one most fraught with danger, since it may require them to go against the prevailing culture.
Right from the beginning, however, they had determined to be faithful to God and to try and follow His directions. And right from the beginning their resolve was put to the test. It was not easy living in the midst of wealth and luxury, surrounded by people who worshipped other gods.
Soon after their arrival they were given food that was not lawful for them to eat. What would they do? Based upon the decision they had already made, they refused the food, and God granted them favor in the sight of their overseers.
Now it was years later. The circumstances had changed; they were no longer strangers in a strange land, but
had become well known and highly respected men. God had given them superior wisdom and insight, and they all held high government positions with all of the commensurate benefits and privileges. And yet even now three of them were facing a difficult, even life threatening, situation.
The king, Nebuchadnezzar, had declared himself to be a god. He had built a huge golden statue of himself and set it in a large open area. Assembling the leaders together he declared that at the given signal everyone must bow down and worship the statue, and thus himself. The penalty for not worshipping the statue was death.
Everything was on the line for the three Jewish men. To worship the image was to deny and dishonor the name of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; to refuse to worship the image meant certain death.
Their minds were made up, however, long before the statue was erected. Their decision had actually been made many years before, and now it was just a matter of acting on that decision. When the king offered an opportunity for them to change their minds, their response was to say that it would do no good, that their minds were made up. They went on to say,
This, of course, is the well known story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego found in Daniel chapters 1-3. As parents we often read these Old Testament stories to our children. The purpose of God in recording this story of three brave Jewish men is not simply to inspire our children, but also to give us direction.
This story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace sets the tone for the subject of this book. There are strong similarities between Nebuchadnezzar’s statue and the statue created by the Antichrist in Revelation 13. If you were faced with a situation similar to that of Shadrach, what would you do?
Decisions, particularly those made in a crisis, are never made in a vacuum. They are the result of much training and the many decisions that were made over the months and years preceding the crisis. When a person finds themselves in the middle of a crisis situation is not the time to think about how to respond. That decision must be made well in advance.
As an experienced leader, Joshua understood this. Having led Israel for many years through victory and defeat as the children of Israel occupied the land of Canaan which God had promised to Abraham, he called the people together to make a decision. He knew that there would be difficult times ahead for the young nation, and it was important that the people make a declaration now.
So Joshua put it to the people in a clear way. He first spoke the word of the Lord to them, and then he presented them with a challenge. They will either serve the Lord God or they will serve foreign gods. They cannot have it both ways. He called upon the people to decide which way it was going to be.
The people understood, and so they responded, “We will serve the Lord our God and we will obey His voice .” (Joshua 24:24)
Making good decisions requires that we have two things, both of which were included in the response of the people. First, we must have a clear vision and purpose. When we come to a “fork in the road” and are faced with a difficult choice of which way to go, the decision is made much easier if we know our destination. The people made the declaration that they were committing themselves to serving God and Him only. This is also the decision that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego made as young men.
Secondly we must have good information. It is difficult to make good decisions with bad information. We may have a nice roadmap, but if it is inaccurate or badly out of date, it is almost worthless in deciding which route to take. When the people responded to Joshua they committed themselves to obeying the voice of the Lord. Likewise, we need to have a clear understanding of God’s will, which means we must both know the Scriptures and hear His direction.
We live in dangerous times today. There is a widespread consensus among evangelicals today that we are rapidly approaching the time of Jesus’ return, that time the Bible refers to as “the day of the Lord.” While that is an exciting prospect, it also means that as Christians we face a treacherous enemy. Satan speaks with many voices and seeks to deceive and mislead as many as he can, especially believers. The body of Jesus Christ is going to be sorely tested, and many are going to fail the test. For those who, in spite of everything, pass the test and remain faithful to their calling the rewards are stupendous.Are we up to the challenge that will soon face us as Christians and the church? That is one of the questions we need to answer now. When difficult times come it may be too late. Like Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego and Daniel, who made the life and death decisions years before they were required to act upon them, we also need to prepare ourselves now for an uncertain future.
The purpose of this book is to help Christians understand the times in which we live, give them a Biblical perspective on what is going to happen and to equip them to succeed. God has prophetically spoken to us in both the Old and New Testaments, and this is a study of that prophecy. Some of the questions and issues that will be dealt with include:
oWhat is God’s plan for the future and how has He revealed it?
oWhat part do we as believers play in His plan?
oWhat does the Bible say are the events surrounding Jesus’ return?
oWhat sign posts are there in indicate where we are in time?