Category Archives: Endurance

The Truth About the Rapture

In many Christian circles, the teaching of the rapture is taken for granted. We hear it taught on Christian radio, and perhaps we’ve read books about it. Most evangelicals know about the rapture, assume it’s in scripture, and then go on their merry way.

When I was in high school, I read the entire Left Behind series. I didn’t think twice about whether it was scriptural or not.

There’s one problem. It’s actually not in scripture. It is a recent theological invention from the 19th century that has unfortunately gained quite a bit of popularity.

At the core, this teaching is spiritually dangerous. It tells Christians they won’t go through tribulation since God will intervene and remove them from it in the last days. Jesus, on the other hand, was very clear that those who persevere through suffering will be saved. (Mt. 24:13; Rev. 2:10) We are saved through suffering, not from suffering. There is a difference.

Corrie Ten Boom, the famous evangelist and all-around godly woman, wrote the following regarding the teaching of the rapture:

There are some among us teaching there will be no tribulation, that the Christians will be able to escape all this. These are the false teachers that Jesus was warning us to expect in the latter days. Most of them have little knowledge of what is already going on across the world. I have been in countries where the saints are already suffering terrible persecution.

In China, the Christians were told, “Don’t worry, before the tribulation comes you will be translated – raptured.” Then came a terrible persecution. Millions of Christians were tortured to death. Later I heard a Bishop from China say, sadly,

“We have failed.
We should have made the people strong for persecution,
rather than telling them Jesus would come first.
Tell the people how to be strong in times of persecution,
how to stand when the tribulation comes,
– to stand and not faint.”

I feel I have a divine mandate to go and tell the people of this world that it is possible to be strong in the Lord Jesus Christ. We are in training for the tribulation, but more than sixty percent of the Body of Christ across the world has already entered into the tribulation. There is no way to escape it.
We are next.

These words are extremely timely. The Lord knows the future. I do not. But we must be prepared to stand strong in the Lord and be willing to suffer for Jesus should we be worthy.

The following clips do a good job of debunking this misinformed teaching. The first video covers the scriptures commonly cited in support of the rapture and explains their true meaning. The second video, “Where Did the Rapture Come From?,” quickly uncovers how this teaching is a recent development associated with Dispensationalism, which was never before taught in churches historically.

 

Christians Must Not Deny Jesus When Persecuted (Apostolic Constitutions)

The quotations below from the Apostolic Constitutions (375 AD) give historical perspective on the attitude of Christians regarding martyrdom and the eternal importance of never denying Jesus. As you can read below, it was taught that those Christians that were unfaithful to their confession risked losing their salvation. The memories of persecution were still relatively fresh for the church at this point, which makes these quotes all the more impactful.

I’ve made the particularly relevant portions below bold, although it’s all worth the read.

But he that denies himself to be a Christian, that he may not be hated of men, and so loves his own life more than he does the Lord, in whose hand his breath is, is wretched and miserable, as being detestable and abominable, who desires to be the friend of men, but is the enemy of God, having no longer his portion with the saints, but with those that are accursed; choosing instead of the kingdom of the blessed, that eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels: not being any longer hated by men, but rejected by God, and cast out from His presence.

For of such a one our Lord declared, saying: “Whosoever shall deny me before men, and shall be ashamed of my name, I also will deny and be ashamed of him before my Father which is in heaven.” And again He speaks thus to us ourselves, His disciples: “He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me; and he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life, shall lose it; and he that loseth his life for my sake, shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” And afterwards: “Fear not them that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (5.1.4)

And a little later:

Let us therefore renounce our parents, and kinsmen, and friends, and wife, and children, and possessions, and all the enjoyments of life, when any of these things become an impediment to piety. For we ought to pray that we may not enter into temptation; but if we be called to martyrdom, with constancy to confess His precious name, and if on this account we be punished, let us rejoice, as hastening to immortality. When we are persecuted, let us not think it strange; let us not love the present world, nor the praises which come from men, nor the glory and honour of rulers, according as some of the Jews wondered at the mighty works of our Lord, yet did not believe on Him, for fear of the high priests and the rest of the rulers: “For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.”

But now, by confessing a good confession, we not only save ourselves, but we confirm those who are newly illuminated, and strengthen the faith of the catechumens. But if we remit any part of our confession, and deny godliness by the faintness of our persuasion, and the fear of a very short punishment, we not only deprive ourselves of everlasting glory, but we shall also become the causes of the perdition of others; and shall suffer double punishment, as affording suspicion, by our denial that that truth which we gloried in so much before is an erroneous doctrine.

Wherefore neither let us be rash and hasty to thrust ourselves into dangers, for the Lord says: “Pray that ye fall not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Nor let us, when we do fall into dangers, be fearful or ashamed of our profession. Nor let us, when we do fall into dangers, be fearful or ashamed of our profession. For if a person, by the denial of his own hope, which is Jesus the Son of God, should be delivered from a temporary death, and the next day should fall dangerously sick upon his bed, with a distemper in his bowels, his stomach, or his head, or any of the incurable diseases, as a consumption, or gangrene, or looseness, or iliac passion, or dropsy, or colic, and has a sudden catastrophe, and departs this life; is not he deprived of the things present, and loses those eternal? Or rather, he is within the verge of eternal punishment, “and goes into outer darkness, where is weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (5.1.6)

The quotes speak for themselves. Let’s not deny Christ, fearing the temporary, and thus lose the eternal.

If you want to read more from the Apostolic Constitutions, check out my post on the early church teaching that continued obedience after baptism is necessary for salvation.

Necessity of Continued Obedience for Salvation (Apostolic Constitutions)

I want to share a series of quotations from the so-named Apostolic Constitutions, compiled and written in the 4th century. The quotations below are based upon an earlier work, the Didascalia Apostolorum from sometime around 230 AD. (Read more at the Wikipedia page and at the Catholic Encyclopedia.)

All of these excepts deal with the importance of continued obedience after conversion.

Much of my early church reading has recently been limited to the Apostolic Fathers, which reflect the earliest Christian sources we have outside scripture. There is clear and compelling evidence in these writings that the earliest Christians believed and taught that believers have to persevere in faith and holy living in order to inherit eternal life. In other words, the early church (in agreement with scripture) didn’t hold to the modern teaching of “eternal security.” Although a slightly later document, the Apostolic Constitutions confirms that the early church continued to confirm the necessity of perseverance for salvation.

This first quotation comes from the opening paragraphs of the first book. The writer makes it clear that those Christians, “ye children of God,” who live disobediently will be considered as “heathen” by God—clearly a stark warning.

Take care, ye children of God, to do all things in obedience to God; and in all things please Christ our Lord. For if any man follows unrighteousness, and does those things that are contrary to the will of God, such a one will be esteemed by God as the disobedient heathen.  (1.1.0)

It goes on to list specific moral instructions, paired with warnings for the unrepentant Christian. Specifically those living in immorality are “condemned by our Lord Jesus Christ” and that “eternal death will overtake thee from God.” This is not the typical language from a Sunday sermon, but good guidance nonetheless.

For he that covets his neighbour’s wife, or his man-servant, or his maid-servant, is already in his mind an adulterer and a thief; and if he does not repent, is condemned by our Lord Jesus Christ (1.1.1)

For if thou art overcome by her, and sinnest with her, eternal death will overtake thee from God; and thou wilt be punished with sensible and bitter torments. (1.2.0)

Baptism was held in very high regard in the early church—much more seriously than in most churches today. After receiving baptism, any Christian obstinately sinning and refusing to repent was considered eternally lost.

Beloved, be it known to you that those who are baptized into the death of our Lord Jesus are obliged to go on no longer in sin; for as those who are dead cannot work wickedness any longer, so those who are dead with Christ cannot practice wickedness. We do not therefore believe, brethren, that anyone who has received the washing of life continues in the practice of the licentious acts of transgressors. Now he who sins after his baptism, unless he repent and forsake his sins, shall be condemned to hell-fire. (2.3.7)

This last quotation considers the spiritual dangers for a previously pure Christian now experimenting with sin. The danger, according to the excerpt below, is that we don’t know when we will die. If we decide to slide a bit and live in sin, who knows if today is our last day? Once we die, there is no more room for repentance. We will be like the five foolish virgins who were not ready for the bridegroom’s return and were “shut-out of the bride-chamber.” If we are living in sin when Jesus returns or when we die, there is no room for confession and consequently forgiveness of sins.

Yet it is very necessary that those who are yet innocent should continue so, and not make an experiment what sin is, that they may not have occasion for trouble, sorrow, and those lamentations which are in order to forgiveness. For how dost thou know, O man, when thou sinnest, whether thou shalt live any number of days in this present state, that thou mayest have time to repent? For the time of thy departure out of this world is uncertain; and if thou diest in sin, there will remain no repentance for thee; as God says by David, “In the grave who will confess to Thee?”

It behoves us, therefore, to be ready in the doing of our duty, that so we may await our passage into another world without sorrow. Wherefore also the Divine Word exhorts, speaking to thee by the wise Solomon, “Prepare thy works against thy exit, and provide all beforehand in the field,” lest some of the things necessary to thy journey be wanting; as the oil of piety was deficient in the five foolish virgins mentioned in the Gospel, when they, on account of their having extinguished their lamps of divine knowledge, were shut out of the bride-chamber.

Wherefore he who values the security of his soul will take care to be out of danger, by keeping free from sin, that so he may preserve the advantage of his former good works to himself. (2.3.13)

The last sentence of the above excerpt (at least in this English translation) does mention the security of the believer. However, in this instance, the soul’s security is contingent on “keeping free from sin.” Otherwise the past life of obedience through faith is of no benefit.

There are several more quotes from the Apostolic Constitution that I may post later, dealing with martyrdom and the importance of confessing Christ, rather than denying Him.

The sheer amount of quotes that speak to this subject of obedience and perseverance is too much to convey in a single post, or several for that matter. Having an historically informed understanding of Christian teaching can only deepen our analysis of scripture and understanding of how modern doctrines have developed over time.

The Prize is Immortality and Eternal Life (Ignatius to Polycarp)

In one of my recent posts, I discussed how the “crown of life” mentioned in James and Revelations is a way of describing eternal life itself. The “crown of life” is the “crown that is life.” Those who persevere in their faith receive this prize—eternal life.

When we study the earliest church fathers, this teaching that eternal life itself is the Christian’s reward is reinforced.

One such instance is the following quote from Ignatius in his letter to Polycarp. Both Ignatius and Polycarp were students of the Apostle John. They were directly exposed and taught from John himself. As such, their writings help us understand how the earliest Christians understood and interpreted scripture. This particular letter of Ignatius was written to Polycarp, the Bishop of Smyrna, as Ignatius was being taken to Rome, where he would eventually be martyred.

Ignatius writes:

The times call for you, as pilots do for the winds, and as one tossed with tempest seeks for the haven, so that both you [and those under your care] may attain to God. Be sober as an athlete of God: the prize set before you is immortality and eternal life, of which you are also persuaded. (Ignatius to Polycarp; 2. 3; Roberts and Donaldson) 

The prize of the Christian athlete is immortality and eternal life. This prize is not behind us according to Ignatius, but set before us.  It is something we strive for as we seek to “attain to God.”

This quotation reminds us of Paul’s statement to the Corinthian church:

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. (1 Cor. 9:24-27)

Ignatius was encouraging Polycarp with the same teaching that Paul himself wrote here to the Corinthians. Paul admonishes us to run the race in order to win the prize. The prize is an imperishable wreath, a reference to immortality (and which also seems to be another way of saying the “crown of life”).

Ignatius, knowing Paul’s intent, doesn’t even bother to use an analogy when describing the reward. He comes out and says plainly that the prize is eternal life. It is immortality.

This is just another tidbit that helps us have an informed, historical perspective of the early church teaching regarding salvation, perseverance, and completing the journey of faith.


Ignatius quotation translated by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885.)

The Lord Will Save Me into His Kingdom (2 Timothy 4:18)

While analyzing every New Testament use of the Greek verb “sozo” (σῴζω), meaning “to save,” I was surprised to find an instance I never noticed before.

Paul uses this verb 29 times in his letters (31 if you include Hebrews), and almost every instance has been consistently translated as some variation of “to save” in regards to our spiritual redemption and deliverance. When we look in the New Testament as a whole, and specifically in the Gospels, this verb is also often used in a more general sense when Jesus heals someone. The sick, lame, and blind are often “made well” (sozo) by Jesus.  So we do see broader NT usage that’s not limited solely to spiritual salvation. However, Paul consistently uses it in the sense of spiritual salvation, which were most familiar with. (Here’s a list of every NT use.)

Although in Paul’s letters “sozo” has been consistently translated as some form of “to save,” there is one exception found in 2 Timothy 4:18, where it reads “will bring me safely”:

The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. (NIV 2 Timothy 4:18)

Most translations have some form of the phrase “will bring me safely.” Nothing is wrong with this translation. It does communicate the Paul’s overall meaning here.

However, it also unfortunately obscures the Paul’s use of “sozo” here. The entire phrase “will bring [me] safely” is translated from the future tense of “sozo,” meaning “he will save” (sosei; σώσει). This is significant because Paul has previously and consistently used this verb to communicate spiritual deliverance.

Young’s Literal Translation is one of the few that translate it as “ will/shall save”:

and the Lord shall free me from every evil work, and shall save me — to his heavenly kingdom; to whom is the glory to the ages of the ages! Amen.

I find this particularly interesting. Here Paul, near the end of his earthly ministry, is anticipating the Lord’s continued protection and ultimate future salvation into Jesus’ kingdom. He writes that the Lord “will save me into his heavenly kingdom.”

If you survey all the scriptures, Paul describes our salvation not only as a past event, but also as an ongoing process and a future hope. Just as God has delivered us from sin and death at our conversion, we are still being saved and ultimately will be saved.

Paul himself was no exception, as we see in his second letter to Timothy. He knew the value of perseverance, of running the race to the end. After writing that the time of his “departure” had come (2 Timothy 4:6), Paul writes:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing. (2 Timothy 4:7-8)

Why will God rescue Paul from every evil work? Why will Jesus save him into the kingdom? It is because he’s “kept the faith.” He’s poured out his life as a servant in praise to God. He’s wholeheartedly trusted God with all that he has. He now looks forward to the completion of his salvation when he receives the “crown of righteousness,” given to those who persevere and joyfully anticipate Jesus’ glorious return.

What Is the Crown of Life?

The crown of life is mentioned twice in the New Testament—once in James and once in Revelations. In both instances, the crown is received by those who stand the test through perseverance in the faith.

Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. (James 1:12)

Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. (Revelations 2:10)

What Is the Crown?
When James and John allude to the “crown of life,” they aren’t thinking of some literal, physical crown. The “crown of life” refers to eternal life itself. It’s not just a bonus reward that only some people get in the eternal kingdom, but rather the prize received by all entrants into heaven.

This particular phrase uses what is known in Greek grammar as the genitive of apposition or epexegetical genitive. The genitive of apposition is often used when the head noun (here, “crown”) is metaphorical. The substantive in the genitive case that follows (here, “of life”) refers roughly to the same thing as the head noun (“crown”). (For more detail, check out this chart).

Put in simple terms, “crown of life” means more specifically “the crown that is life.” Life itself is the future reward. In keeping with the genitive of apposition, “crown” is a metaphorical reference that is further clarified by “of life.” So, the “crown of life” is simply another way to say “eternal life.”

This same concept applies to other “crowns” mentioned in the epistles. We read of a “crown of righteousness” (2 Tim. 4:8) and a “crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:4). Just as with the crown of life, righteousness and glory are the rewards themselves. This makes perfect sense. When we enter heaven, we will be forever justified (found righteous) and glorified.

Conditions Upon Receiving Eternal Life
According to James, the crown will be given only to those who are approved after persevering under trial. The trial, of course, is a testing. It reveals the quality of that which is tested, in this case the Christian. After being tested by various trials, we will be either be approved or rejected. Those that are approved will receive eternal life (represented by the crown of life).

This crown has been promised to those who love God. Those who persevere and stand approved have been shown to truly love God, and thus receive eternal life. The one who is approved through perseverance and the one who loves God are one and the same. If you love God, you will persevere. If you persevere through trials, you show your love for God. They are different perspectives of the same reality.

The other reference in Revelations is completely consistent with the teaching in James. They both reinforce each other and communicate the same message. John, relaying the words of Jesus, writes that those who “remain faithful until death” will receive eternal life. Those who persevere until the day they die are those who are tested and found approved. They truly love God, as evidenced by their willingness to lay down their lives for Him. They walk in the same footsteps of Jesus as true disciples, loving as Jesus loved. As such, they receive the crown of life, which symbolizes eternal life.

This perseverance until our death isn’t in our strength alone, but with God’s help as we walk in obedience with Him. He will strengthen and guide us to the end, no matter what the trials. However, we must remain in Him through daily laying down our lives in service to God and others. If we are continually faithful in the small matters, he will strengthen us to remain faithful when faced with trials no mortal could withstand without divine help. And once we have overcome, we will receive the crown of life—life forever with God.

The words of Paul speak to this reality of God’s support as we abide in Him:

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass. (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24)

Unless Found Perfect: A Parallel Passage in the Didache and Epistle of Barnabas

There is a strong parallel phrase between the Didache (50-70 AD) and the Epistle of Barnabas (90-131 AD), two very early Christian writings found in the modern collection known as the Apostolic Fathers.

In anticipation of the last days and the return of Jesus, the Didache emphasizes the necessity of being found perfect or complete in the last days, otherwise our past faith will “be of no use.”

Watch over your life: do not let your lamps go out, and do not be unprepared, but be ready, for you do not know the hour when our Lord is coming. Gather together frequently, seeking the things that benefit your souls, for all the time you have believed will be of no use to you if you are not found perfect in the last time. (Didache 16. 1,2; Holmes, 3rd Ed.)

In the 1912 Loeb edition, Kirsopp Lake translates the last passage as, “for the whole time of your faith shall not profit you except ye be found perfect at the last time.”

Similar language is used in the Epistle of Barnabas when talking of the last days:

Consequently, let us be on guard in the last days, for the whole time of our faith will do us no good unless now, in the age of lawlessness, we also resist, as befits God’s children, the coming stumbling blocks, lest the black one find an opportunity to sneak in. (Barnabas 4. 9b; Holmes, 3rd Ed.)

Both are directly speaking of the importance of continued spiritual soberness in the last days.  The Greek has almost identical wording in both passages where it says “for the whole time of your/our faith will do you/us no good unless [now] in the last/lawless time […].”

Didache:    οὐ       γὰρ ὠφελήσει ὑμᾶς ὁ πᾶς χρόνος τῆς πίστεως ὑμῶν, ἐὰν μὴ        ἐν τῷ ἐσχάτῳ καιρῷ […]
Barnabas: οὐδὲν γὰρ ὠφελήσει ἡμᾶς ὁ πᾶς χρόνος τῆς πίστεως ἡμῶν, ἐὰν μὴ νῦν ἐν τῷ ἀνόμῳ καιρῷ […]

There is no doubt that there either was a common source that both quoted from, or Barnabas borrowed here from the Didache. Regardless, the teaching that we need to be found faithful at the end was a common teaching present among the earliest believers. The eternal state of a Christian was not strictly viewed only as a simple profession of past faith, but in terms of continued faithfulness and endurance up until the end of our life.

Eventually I may take the time and effort to complete a comprehensive survey of this teaching in the earliest non-canonical Christian writings, but until then this is just one morsel of early Christian thought to chew on.