The Long Shadow - By Pete Garcia -
Shadows are interesting things. They communicate a reality, yet, they themselves are not really real. They indicate the thing that is coming, yet, they are not the things themselves. Pastor Ken Ortize (Calvary Spokane)
There is a day coming, which will turn the world upside down. That day is known to us, as the Rapture of the Church. While it is true that no man knows the day or hour, it is also true that the Bible states we would see that day approaching. (Matt. 16: 1-4, Thess. 5:1-9, Hebrews 10:25, Rev. 3:3). The only way that is possible to know and not know, is to see the shadow of the event before it arrives.
The Rapture, for both its attractors and detractors, remains a highly contested event amongst believers and non-believers alike. Non-believers simply look at the Rapture as a joke or something to mock and ridicule, if they think about it at all. To the believer, however, there is much divergence of opinion as to the nature and timing of the event. However, one would be hard-pressed to state that the Bible does not mention this event as a certainty. Only a true heretic would deny what the Bible clearly teaches, because it is found throughout scripture, both in word and type. To deny that, would be to deny what is clearly written in Holy Scripture.
However, the divergence of thought can find more solid footing as to determining when exactly the Rapture will occur, and that is ok. If God had wanted man to know exactly when a thing was to occur (or how), He would have had the writers state as much. Instead, God uses type (foreshadow) and doctrinal congruity to strongly imply as to the nature of the Rapture event itself. It is a divinely appointed happening showcasing God's supernatural ability to rescue His own, prior to unleashing His wrath and judgment He pours out upon the earth.
Thus, we have lived in this long shadow since that first Pentecost. This is where the Holy Spirit was given to mankind in an extraordinary fashion as 'cloven tongues of fire' descending upon the disciples (Acts 2:1-4). However, just prior to that, Christ ascended from the earth in front of His disciples in an equally glorious fashion. As they stood gazing intently into the sky, presumably, wondering if He would return in short order, two Angels appear and communicate with the disciples gathered there.
Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven." Acts 1:9-11
This shadow indicating Christ's return, perhaps only a sliver, was not even discernible then. Before He left, Christ's mandate to the disciples indicated that while His return was absolutely certain (John 14:1-3), it may have some time built into it. They were to go into all the world, making disciples of all nations.
And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen - Matthew 28:18-20 (emphasis mine)
In the centuries which followed, time began to form a wedge between the believer's eager anticipation of Christ's return, and the certainty of the event itself. During high times of persecution (60-312AD), the church fervently held to the belief Christ would return quickly and it sustained them. This served as a powerful preservative to those early Christians. Satan, who, having been defeated at the Cross, discovered that the more he persecuted the church, the faster it grew. Thus, he had to change his strategy. He needed a more subtle approach, much like he did with Eve in the garden.
"Hath God indeed said...?"
...He would indeed return?
Satan knew/knows he cannot defeat the Church (Matt. 16:7-19). However, he knows humans are easily corruptible. If he couldn't destroy the Church, he would need to neutralize the Church. He knew (knowing human nature) that if he could get the Church focused on this life and not the next, he could corrupt them. This distraction came in the form of a hermeneutical (interpretational) corruption that began with the early church father Origen (184-253 AD) and continued with the conversion of Emperor Constantine in 312AD.
His conversion (true or not) allowed for Christians to come out of the shadows and begin living openly in the still largely pagan empire. Eventually, a North African Christian convert named Augustine of Hippo (circa 390AD), produces a popular, yet heretical, form of eschatology known as amillennialism. It began to emerge as the predominant viewpoint within Christendom. This view (Amillennialism) posited that the Church was now both Israel (who was then in diaspora) and also the physical manifestation of the promised Kingdom-Come. Thus, inheritors of all the Old Testament blessings and promises.
This new variation of Christianity then began absorbing many of the Roman's pagan rituals, temples, and even clergy as their own to make it more palatable to a still largely pagan empire in decline.
And the shadow grew.
However, this hijacking was not unforeseen by God. Christ had predicted as much in His seven Kingdom Parables (Matthew 13). The most obvious one was with the Parable of the Mustard Seed.
Another parable He put forth to them, saying: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches." Matthew 13:31-32
In the context of all these parables, the birds are viewed as unclean and evil things. In the first parable (Sower of the seeds), the birds devour all the seed (the new converts) that fall to the wayside. Later, the Apostle Paul would call Satan 'the prince of the power of the air,' (Eph. 2:2) indicating where Satan's domain really lay.
However, if we stay in context with the symbolism given here, the birds (unclean) take shelter into a tree (the church) that grows unnaturally larger than it should (Mustard trees are not large at all). Thus, instead of the church taking the gospel into the world, Jesus said the world would come into the church and began trying to corrupt it.
An interesting side note that indicates the direction the Gospel would take root, is in the ordering of numbers given in Matthew 13:8 (100, 60, and 30) and Mark 4:20 (30, 60, and 100). As Matthew was written with a Jewish audience in mind, it would indicate a decline in Jewish converts. Mark was written with a Gentile audience in mind, and prophetically reverses the numbers indicating that the gentiles would now become the harvest.
And the shadow grew.
Remember back to Jesus' parting statement in Matthew 28. He still has all authority in both heaven and on earth. This worldly form of Christendom quickly assumed (and consumed) what had been the extents of the Roman empire. However, this was to be short-lived. Since Jesus knew Christianity would be hijacked into this whorish variation of paganism and Christianity, He allowed a new force to arise that would quickly put an end to the worldly-minded Holy Roman Empire. The Muslims began to conquer and take hold of the lands that were once "Christian" (nations can't be Christian-only individuals can). However, as Islam began to dominate, it too began to splinter into a million tiny factions, all vying for control.
As the persecution intensified, Christendom began to splinter into two factions; those who wanted to remain in the largely pagan Holy Roman Empire, and those who did not. While the Holy Roman Empire (now the Roman Catholic Church [RCC]) maintained its foothold largely in Europe, true Christians continued to spread throughout the world.
The RCC was satanically covetous of the power and spread of true Christianity, and began to declare through papal bulls, that anyone who did not follow the RCC, were heretics. These heretics were to be excommunicated, imprisoned, wealth confiscated, tortured, and ultimately killed (usually by burning) in a 700-year period known as the Inquisition. Examples of the persecuted groups largely centered on both Jews and believers (e.g., Waldensians, Anabaptists, Lollards, etc.)
From a sliver in the first century, to now taking some form, the shadow continued to grow slowly, but surely.
The second example of this shadow and the time built into Christ's return was given to us by Christ Himself in His Seven Letters to the Seven Churches (Revelation 1-3). The seven churches Jesus addresses in Revelation were literal churches in John's day. By 95AD, there were thousands of churches. The Lord could have used, literally, any number of churches as examples to convey His messages. However, because He only uses seven (as opposed to 13 or 82) means, that there was a specific reason He did so. Furthermore, the churches He chose were chosen for specific reasons. There were larger congregations at that time in places like Corinth, Galatia, Rome, Antioch, Jerusalem, etc. He chose the quantity, type, and location for very specific reasons. He then gave them to John in a particular order because God does not do things arbitrarily or accidentally. These seven were not selected because they had issues only unique to themselves, but to all churches (he who has an ear). Furthermore, as the number seven holds (biblically speaking) to the number of plenitude or completion/perfection so that the seven churches then represent all churches, of all time.
Even within each type of church, we can see the different types of believers represented by the corporate image of each church. For example, within the Sardis-era, (the era in which one type of church dominates Christendom) we can see Philadelphian or Laodicean types of believers. We also note that Jesus had seven kingdom parables, which overlap with His seven letters, which can be overlapped with Paul's epistles to seven churches (excluding duplicates, personal letters, and Hebrews [which remained unsigned]).
Now here is the rub. Here at the end of the age, not only is this prophetic shadow present, but its darkness has covered the world. Things appear dark, because we are now in the shadow of the 70th Week of Daniel (Dan. 9:27). It is a foreboding time, pregnant with great horror, abominations, and wickedness that is only recognizable to those who have been filled with the Holy Spirit and have eyes to see, and ears to hear. The Bible states emphatically that the world at large, would not see the day coming, just as those Pharisees could not see their Messiah in front of them (Matt. 16:1-4). Just like before the flood, that antediluvian population assumed that things would continue on as it always had since creation. But the Bible says otherwise...
For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left. Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. Matthew 24:38-42
But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, "Peace and safety!" then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. 1 Thessalonians 5:1-4
Knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, "Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation." For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. 2 Peter 3:4-7
And finally, to the church of Sardis, Jesus warns...
Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you. Revelation 3:3
This warning was reserved to the third to the last church, who, if in chronological order, represents the Protestant Reformation era church onward. This signaled that mankind was entering into the final period before His return. Here, the church was to be on the lookout for Christ's soon coming...yet, they would not look. Interestingly, when the Protestants broke away from the Roman Catholic Church, they brought with them, the Roman Catholic eschatological view of Amillennialism. Fast forward to the 2000s, and we see most of the mainline denominations capitulating to moral depravity, even going so far as to ordain homosexuals and transgendered clergy.
By the 1730s, we finally, we see the remaining two church epochs (Philadelphia and Laodicea) we begin to emerge onto the scene.
Philadelphia: (1730-Present). Out of the smoldering coals of the dying Reformation fires, came a Spirit-driven spiritual revival in Europe and America called the First Great Awakening. Here, we see the great missionary movements begin to set out unto all the world, sharing the light of the Gospel to every nation. This was followed by the Second Great Awakening beginning in the 1790s, and the Third, in the 1850s. At this time, the United States and Europe were essential Acts 2 (largely homogenous with Judeo-Christian) audiences. As time moved on, the Awakenings would get smaller and smaller as the West became increasingly an Acts 19 culture (largely divergent without Judeo-Christian roots). Out of all the letters, only this one has a promise to remove the Church altogether from this world. The rest of the letters, when taken in context, offer no such promise.
Laodicea: (1900-Present) unsurprisingly, as the Great Awakenings began to spring up across the nation, pseudo-Christian groups also began to leech on and lead many astray. It's hard to pinpoint exactly when these apostate movements began to make serious headway, but by 1900, they were firmly entrenched into Western society through the Seventh Day Adventists, Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, Christian Scientists, and so forth. We also see the birth of the Charismatic movement, beginning around 1906 with the Azusa Street Revival.
While not condemning the charismatic movement writ large as there are still many good Pentecostal churches out there; most of the false teachers today (health & wealth, prosperity, dominionist gospel, as well as Hebrew Roots, and Emergent church movements) seemingly have their roots connected back to someone in the charismatic movement. Through the Emergent Church, we see a concerted effort to insert Eastern-mysticism into Christendom. Through the Hebrew Roots, we see a church departing from the Pauline teachings of the New Testament, for the Mosaic Laws (and oral traditions) of the Old Testament. Through the Health & Wealth / Seeker Sensitive churches, we see a church willing to compromise on just about everything in order to stay relevant. However, this church believes they lack nothing but are poor, blind, and naked in Christ's view. No promise is made by Christ to come, only a severe rebuke and chastening to repent. Christ stands outside this church knocking on the door.
However, the decline of Western Christendom and the intense ramping up of persecution against Eastern Christendom was foretold by Scripture. None of this was by accident or surprise to God. We with eyes to see and ears to hear, should take some comfort living through these darkened days, because they are only darkened, by the shadow of what's coming...our deliverance. And finally, to the faithful church, to whom Christ has no point of condemnation with, He states,
Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. Revelation 3:10
Are You Ready?