Summary: A lot of end times theology has come out Paul’s teaching in 1 Thessalonians - but what did Paul intend to teach?

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Stop the Madness, Part 1

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Cascades Fellowship CRC, JX MI

July 6th, 2003

Pastor Chris Lanham

“Heaven, Heaven

Everybody talking about heaven ain’t going there

Heaven, Heaven

Going to shout all over God’s heaven.”

So goes the chorus to one of the most beloved Negro spirituals. Truer theology has not been spoken – not everybody talking about heaven is going there. Jesus warned of this in the parable of the wheat and the tares in Matthew13: 24-30 – there are weeds among the wheat, that will be weeded out in the last days. Everybody talking about heaven ain’t going there.

But there is also a fair amount of bad theology in the song. Now don’t get me wrong – this song is an uplifting, rousing affair that has encouraged generations of Christians. And the song provided hope to a people whose lot seemed hopeless: African-Americans oppressed by the chains of slavery. But there is a fair amount of theology based upon folk tales and tradition rather than the Scriptures. Here is one example:

“I’ve got a harp

All God’s children got a harp

When I get to heaven going to play my harp

Going to play all over God’s heaven.”

Heaven, heaven – everybody’s talking about heaven! There is a constant hum in the Christian community about the signs of the times. The discussion of the end times and heaven have even made it into the mainstream. The problem is not everything being said is worth listening to.

But an even more pressing problem with the “last days” fervor that seems to sweep through the church periodically is that the church spends so much time researching signs and gazing at the eastern sky, that we forget to be about the Father’s business. Energy that should be poured into equipping the saints for going out into all nations, baptizing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is instead being used to scrutinize every international incident and how it might somehow be captured in the words of prophecy. Like the worker who is more concerned about the clock than giving a full day’s honest labor, with the fields white for harvest, we’re busy looking for the sign that will tell us its quitting time.

I remember during the first war against Iraq a number of books hit the shelves tying the events of the war to the prophecies of the Bible. Imminent theologians staked their reputations on works tying the Middle East conflict of 1991 to the beginning of the end. According to their complex formulations of how the Hebrew culture used numbers and calculated dates, the time was ripe for the Tribulation – that period of trouble before Christ’s ultimate return and reign. Some 12 years after the fact, in a recent Christian Books Distributors catalog, I noticed one of those books now goes for $.50. That’s the problem with writing a book predicting the end times – once the time is past and the end still hasn’t come, the book, and the research used to write the book is pretty much worthless. All that time and effort that could have been used for forming good theology, for effectively equipping saints – wasted.

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Derek Combs

commented on Mar 6, 2012

Fantastic sermon on a hotly-debated topic. I wish all preachers/teachers would treat this issue as biblically and carefully as Lanham has. To God be the Glory!

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