Strangers and Pilgrims
On the Earth
How to be Ready for the Great Tribulation
From the Main Message of
Bread Upon The Waters Ministry
Throughout the three synoptic Gospels, Jesus on a number of occasions gave warnings about the necessity of being ready for His Coming. The notable thing about these warnings is that all of them were addressed to His disciples. He never addressed them to the general masses. This fact tells us something: Just being a Christian is not enough to make you ready! This is not an idea that Christians like to hear. But when you consider that Jesus said this, as in Matthew 24, to His closest followers, to men who could already heal the sick and cast out demons, you have to see that it is true.
As stated in the "Jesus REALLY is coming soon" and "Great Tribulation" pages, most Christians will not be ready when the Great Tribulation begins, and they are likely to be the ones who will suffer the worst during the Tribulation. They will be subject to both the chastening of God and the wrath of Satan, via the Beasts. This is the opposite of what most Christians expect, but it is what is most likely to happen.
As stated in the "Great Tribulation" page, once the Tribulation is under way, most of the Christians who weren't ready will wake up to their failure and repent. But it would be far better to be ready now. So the question is raised: What is required of a Christian who wants to be ready? There are two passages in the New Testament that give guidelines for being ready. One is what Jesus told the Christians of the Church of Laodicea to do about their spiritual problems in Revelation 3:18 - 20. Since we are living in the Age of the Church of Laodicea, what He told them to do is what we have to do. The second passage is the three Parables of Matthew 25. These Parables, by their context following the great prophetic discourse of Matthew 24, are clearly about being ready. This is confirmed by the fact that each ends in something equivalent to Judgment Day. To be ready, we must correctly understand these Parables and apply them to our lives.
There are three major ideas that underlie this message:
You can take the Bible too literally, but you can't take it too seriously. For example, no one would be likely to believe that Jesus meant for us to literally cut off our hands or pluck out our eyes (Matthew 5:29 & 30), but we can understand Him to have meant that we must be ruthless about getting rid of anything in our lives that causes us to sin. This is spiritually critical.
God is more concerned about the failure of Christians to live the kind of lives that they should than He is about the occasional overt sins they commit. This is shown in Matthew 5:13-20, and John 15:1-8. When you think of Ephesians 2:8 & 9, you are taking it out of context if you don't include verse 10, and you should relate it to James 2:20-24. If you don't like this view of this issue, you may be in big trouble, spiritually.
Note that nobody in the Parables of Matthew 25 is judged on the basis of their faith. What makes the difference, like it or not, is their works, that is, their performance as Christians. Ignore this, or object to it, to your own hurt. You might make it into Heaven without works, but if you do, you will get there scorched and smelling of smoke. See I Corinthians 3:13-15. Notice the significance given to "work".
Strangers and Pilgrims
This page is titled "Strangers and Pilgrims on the Earth" because that's what the Old Testament heroes of faith confessed themselves to be (Hebrews 11:13), and that's how the Bible says we are supposed to live (I Peter 2:11). To understand what this means, we must define the two terms, "Strangers and Pilgrims".
A stranger is someone who is not known in the place where he is. He is from somewhere else, and his habits, his customs and maybe even his language are different. He doesn't know the people where he is and they don't know him. We are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven living in this world. We should act like it. Therefore, Christians are supposed to live in a way that is so different from the unsaved people around them that they will seem like strangers. The worst thing an unsaved person can say as an honest criticism of a Christian is, "I don't see anything different about you". Christians should be visibly different, and as much as possible be separate from, the world around them.
When Americans think of the word "Pilgrims", they usually think of the Puritans landing at Plymouth Rock, but that is a special meaning of the word. The normal definition of a pilgrim is someone who is taking a journey to a holy place to worship there. The trip itself is a service to God, and may entail some extreme, and perhaps voluntary hardship. We are pilgrims passing through this world on the way to Heaven. We should live our lives as though that is where we really believe we are going. Our entire lives should be spent in service to God. In the Middle Ages, there were pilgrims who traveled from Europe to Jerusalem on their knees. Although this is senseless and spiritually useless, it is a good metaphor for the degree of commitment that Christians who want to be ready for the Great Tribulation should make. We should, as St. Paul told us, (Romans 12:1) present our "bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service".
When Jesus addressed the Church of Laodicea, He told them what to do in highly figurative terms. We must do some serious Bible study to find out what He meant. This means that Jesus didn't mean for anyone who wasn't serious about obeying Him to be able to figure it out. Another interesting thing is that in Revelation 3:18, He told us to buy the things we need to be ready. This is in sharp contrast with the references in the Gospels and the Epistles that tell us to just ask in prayer for the things we need. Jesus was telling us that being ready is going to cost us something. There is only one other reference in the New Testament to buying something to meet a spiritual need. It is in Matthew 25, and it is also related to being ready. There will be no cheap grace involved in being ready.
It would help us to understand these things if we could find another verse in the Bible that tells us to do the same things, and makes them plainer. There is such a verse, and it is quite well known, although its full meaning is not generally understood. The verse is II Chronicles 7:14. This verse has been promoted in the past two decades as the solution to the social, economic and spiritual ills of the United States. But the situation has generally continued to grow worse for all the verse has been promoted. This is a sure sign that most Christians at least aren't obeying it, and evidence that they don't even understand it.
Gold Tried In Fire
The first thing that Jesus told the Church of Laodicea to buy from Him is gold tried in fire. This is a Biblical symbol of faith tested through suffering. We know this from I Peter 1:7 and Job 23:10. However, in these two passages, the suffering referred to is involuntary. If we are going to "buy" this "gold tried in fire" the suffering has to be voluntary. It is something that we decide to do. What is it?
Here we must look at II Chronicles 7:14. The first thing that God told the Israelites to do was "humble themselves and pray". We know that we are supposed to pray, but is that all there is to it? What did God mean by "humble themselves"? We must look for another passage where the ideas of prayer and humbling are linked. We find such a passage in Daniel 10, the story of Daniel's three week fast. The key is in verse 12, where the angel refers to Daniel having set himself to "humble (himself) before God". "Humbling" in both contexts is fasting. This is the voluntary suffering. Jesus, in Revelation 3:18, is telling Christians that if they want to be ready for the Tribulation, the first thing they must do is fast and pray, and the fasting is not an option.
There are several New Testament references that show that the Lord expects Christians to fast. In the passage in Matthew 6 in which Jesus gives the Lord's Prayer, He also discusses fasting and giving alms. He discusses all three subjects with the assumption that Christians will do it. He says "when", not "if". Again, when asked in Luke 5:33-35, when asked why His disciples didn't fast, Jesus said, in essence, that after He ascended to Heaven, they would. Furthermore, there is Scriptural reason to believe that you can't have full power in prayer unless your prayer life includes fasting on a regular basis.
It is a fact that some Christians can't fast. But there is at least one Biblical alternative. It is called watching. It is going without sleep in order to spend quality time in prayer. This practice was demonstrated by Jesus in His own prayer life during His earthly ministry. After His temptation in the wilderness, there is no mention in the Gospels of His fasting again. But He was in the habit of spending long hours late at night in prayer. See for example, Mark 1: 35 and Luke 6:12. If He felt that it was that important to have a good prayer life, how much more should we?
Again, there is also a problem with Christians really praying. A Gallup Poll (Note: the late George Gallup Sr. was a Born Again Christian.) taken some years ago showed that the average Christian in the United States prays only three minutes a day, and the average pastor only prays seven minutes. Compare that with the prayer life of Jesus. Christians need to stop talking about prayer and start doing it!
If you want to be ready for the Second Coming, you must commit yourself to regular times of prayer and fasting.
The next thing Jesus tells them to buy is white garments to cover their nakedness. Nakedness in the Bible is a metaphor for being guilty of unconfessed, unrepented sin; especially the sin of idolatry. Buying the white garments means real repentance, repentance that includes renunciation of sin, not just being sorry and asking forgiveness. It means that you must stop the sinning!
In II Chronicles 7:14, it is the Israelites who have to repent of their wicked ways. As it applies to our world, is the Christians who have to repent, not the unsaved. The idea is for us to repent of our own sins, as opposed to just praying for the unsaved to repent, which is what most Christians who think they are obeying this verse do. The sin that the Israelites most often needed to repent of was idolatry. Again, nakedness is a metaphor for being guilty of idolatry. What is our idolatry?
The idolatry that the present day Christians most need to repent of is the way in which they are conforming to the world, the opposite of what we are told to do in Romans 12:2. The Church conforms to the world in the way it is embracing and imitating the secular world of arts, entertainment and sports. One of the most important Scriptures about Christian obedience is II Corinthians 6: 17 & 18:
"Come out from among them.
And be separate", says the Lord.
"Do not touch what is unclean,
and I will receive you.
I will be a Father to you,
And you shall be my sons and daughters",
Says the Lord Almighty.
The secular world of arts, entertainment and sports is morally and spiritually filthy. Christians know this, but they are nevertheless indulging in it and imitating it like pigs rolling in mud. When a secular celebrity, athletes included, professes to be a Christian, he or she is immediately idolized as a veritable super saint. And that in spite of the fact that several such celebrities have already openly betrayed Christ with their sinful behavior! Christians must turn their backs on the world, and all it has to offer if they want to be ready for the Second Coming. They must acknowledge their worldliness for what it is, sin, and renounce it.
Christians must also commit themselves to overt obedience in ways they are not doing. These issues will be discussed in the "Mandates of Matthew 25".
The third thing that Jesus told the Church of Laodicea to buy was eye salve to anoint their eyes. Actually, the Greek word translated "anoint" actually means "rub in". So this is something they will have to work at. But what is the eye salve?
In II Chronicles 7:14, God told the Israelites to "seek My face". Like humbling themselves, this is not just a reinforcement of the call to prayer. To seek someone's face in the Old Testament sense means working at getting to really know the person. So God was telling them to work at really getting to know Him.
In the Old Testament times, people would work at getting to know God by studying the Law of Moses. In our time, we work at getting to know God by studying the entire Bible.
How does this equate with "eye salve"? The link is in the Greek word for "eye salve". It is a diminutive form of the Greek word for a loaf bread. This was the name of a kind of eye salve that was actually made in Laodicea. It came in lumps shaped like small loaves of bread. So Jesus is telling us to rub the Bread of Life into our eyes. Read it, study it, memorize it, and meditate on it.
Oh, yes. Believe it and obey it. Although most Christians accept the Bible as the Word of God, too many do not accept its authority in many important areas of life. If you want to be ready for the Tribulation, you must repent of all thinking and acting in which you put the word of man on a level of authority equal to, or higher than, the Word of God.
Fill your mind with the Word of God to the exclusion of anything you don't have to read. Particularly avoid reading fiction. Avoid reading inspirational literature from any source that you aren't familiar with. Even so-called Christian devotional books can be tainted with serious falsehood. The more recently they were published, the more likely this is to be true. If you really want Truth, go straight to the source. Accept no substitutes.
To sum it up, if you want to be an "overcomer", you must get into prayer and fasting like you never have done (unless you are a rare exception), turn your back on the world to the point that you will be called a legalist if you preach what you practice, and immerse your mind in the Word of God to the exclusion of anything else that isn't necessary to read. If you don't do these things, you will be in big trouble when the Tribulation begins.
The Mandates of Matthew 25
When Jesus had finished giving His great prophetic discourse in Matthew 24, He then taught a series of Parables. First, He gave an introductory Parable at the end of chapter 24. It is known as the Parable of the Faithful and Unfaithful Servants. Then, in chapter 25, He presented three of His best known Parables, The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, The Parable of the Talents, and the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. All these Parables are about obedience. More than that, by their context, they are all about being ready for the Second Coming. This conclusion is reinforced by the fact that they all end with something equivalent to Judgment Day. The clear intent of them all is that we must obey the things taught in these Parables or we will not be ready.
Note that all the people in these Parables are Christians, or at least consider themselves such. There is no mention of the unsaved here, contrary to what has sometimes been taught. These Parables are about Christians being ready. Period.
The Faithful and Unfaithful Servants
This Parable sets the tone for the three that follow. Here Jesus vividly contrasts the fate of the servant who did what he was supposed to do with what happened to the one who didn't. Relating it to other Scriptures, we conclude that the faithful servant will reign with Christ. The unfaithful one may actually lose his salvation. At the very best, he isn't ready for the Tribulation. We must look at what made the difference.
The faithful servant was diligent about serving his master's household. He was doing what he was supposed to do. As it applies to us, our Master's household is the Church. Here is a major principle about being ready. A Christian who wants to be ready must be diligent about serving his fellow Christians, and that as opposed to serving anyone else.
Now look at the unfaithful servant. His first problem was that he didn't expect his master to return. Herein is another major principle: You must live your life as if you expect the Lord to return at any moment. Seriously! The unfaithful servant didn't, and he got careless about obedience. This is what really happens to Christians who don't expect the Second Coming. He manifested this, first of all, by embracing the world, which, as shown above, is exactly what Christians must not do. Finally, rather than being a servant to his fellow Christians, he abused them. Christians really do this, in a variety of ways. Again, it is what we must not do. Being ready is very much a matter of living as if we really expect the Second Coming, and being a servant to our fellow Christians.
The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins
Here we find 10 virgins waiting for the bridegroom. They have all fallen asleep. This means that none of them are really expecting the Second Coming. But when the cry is heard that the bridegroom is coming, they wake up. But five find that their lamps have gone out for lack of oil. The others have oil and their lamps are burning. But they are unable to share their oil with those who have run out. What is going on here?
For one thing, Jesus is telling us that you can, in fact, get away with not really expecting the Second Coming, but you can't get away with not being prepared spiritually. Furthermore, you can't get ready at the last minute. Waiting until the last minute to be ready for the Second Coming is like waiting for the last minute to get saved. You may never get the chance. And one other thing. You can't be ready on the basis of another Christian's faith.
There are Christians who try to live second-hand Christian lives, always running to other Christians for advice; answers to questions such that they should know for themselves, and going to prayer meetings to be prayed for instead of doing the praying. These people are foolish virgins, and they won't be ready. You must stand on your own two feet, on the Lord, of course, if you want to be ready. You must be filled with the Spirit and stay that way.
Note that the foolish virgins are able to go out and buy the oil even after the bridegroom comes. This is a reference to Christians not being ready for the Tribulation, not the actual Second Coming of Christ. If it was the actual Second Coming, it would be Judgment Day for them, and that's all. But they manage to get filled with the Holy Spirit after the bridegroom comes. What they are locked out of is not the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, it is divine protection during the Tribulation.
The Parable of the Talents
This Parable is to some extent well understood: We must use our talents to serve the Lord, or we will be punished. In the context, it means that we won't be ready for the Great Tribulation if we don't. What is not so well known is what is really meant by the word "talent".
When most people today think of the word "talent" they usually define it as a natural aptitude, something we are naturally good at, like art, music or sports. But that is not how the word is meant in the Parable. Note that the "talents" are given to the master's servants. They are not given to strangers. Further, they are given according to their own ability (Matthew 25:15). So a Biblical "talent" is something given in addition to, and in the knowledge of, a person's natural aptitudes. Further, the implication of the Parable is that the master expected them to use the "talents" to make money for him, which is to say, to serve him. Note also that the servant who got only one "talent" did nothing with it, which suggests that the master knew him well enough to have a hunch as to what he would do with it. This means that the servants had all been in the Lord's service for some time before they got the "talents", long enough for the master to get to know them.
The only things found in the Bible that fit the requirements are gifts of the Holy Spirit, in particular the service gifts, as found in Ephesians 4:11, Romans 12:6-8, and I Corinthians 12:7 - 10. Note also that these gifts are given for the benefit of the Church as a whole, not for the individual alone. Again, we have a reinforcement of the idea that being ready is very much a matter of being a servant to one's fellow Christians.
Therefore, again, the "talents" in the Parable are not natural aptitudes. Contrary to the belief that is popular even among pastors who should know better, a natural aptitude is not a gift of the Holy Spirit, except in the sense that life itself is a gift from God. Otherwise, a natural aptitude is mainly a matter of heredity and chance. The Bible does say that there is a chance factor in life (Ecclesiastes 9:11). Again, a gift of the Holy Spirit is given only for the Lord's service. A natural aptitude can be used for anything, including serious evil. Hitler could be regarded as having been a "talented" orator and administrator. Do you think that God made a special act of giving him those abilities?
The trouble with erroneously defining "talents" as natural aptitudes is that if a Christian thinks that his aptitudes are his Biblical "talents", he may pursue the development of his aptitudes to the point that he never finds out what his real spiritual gifts are. This may reach the point of causing him to turn away from the Lord completely in pursuit of success. (This has happened! This writer knows real cases in point.) In such a case, the erroneous definition may cost him his salvation. At best, he won't have a chance of being ready.
A Christian must make a point of finding out what his real spiritual gifts are and work at using them. In doing so, he must realize that real gifts may not manifest themselves in his life until he has been a Christian for at least a few years. He must also realize that using a real "talent' will, above all, require him to be a servant. He must be willing to do what the Lord gives him to do, and not insist on doing things his way. If a Christian thinks he has a gift, and is looking for the limelight in using it, he is on an ego trip, and probably doesn't really have a spiritual gift.
The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats
This Parable, again, is entirely about Christians. Jesus divides them into two groups, one called "sheep" and the other called "goats". The difference, of course, was what they did and did not do for, as Jesus put it, "the least of these My brethren". Like the definition of the word "talent", obedience to this Parable depends on how we define this term.
In the sight of the unsaved who give credence to Christian ideas (and many superficially do), the term refers to the entire human race. But, in keeping with principles of sound doctrine, we should allow Scripture to define Scripture. We should let Jesus tell us what He meant. There are three nearly identical passages in the Gospels in which He does. They are in Matthew 12:46-50, Mark 3:32 -35, and Luke 8: 19 -21.
In Luke 8:21, He says clearly and bluntly,
"My mother and My brothers are those who hear the Word of God and do it".
The "least of these My brethren" are our fellow Christians and nobody else. To apply this term to the whole human race is a lie of Satan. Any Christian who runs a ministry based on the latter definition is overtly disobeying God while being deceived into thinking he is obeying. Jesus was telling us, again, to be diligent about being servants to our fellow Christians. His use of the phrase "the least of these" was telling us further, not to discriminate about which Christians we will be servants to. And Christians do discriminate that way, which is part of the abuse referred to in the case of the unfaithful servant.
Christians are not supposed to be servants to the unsaved in an organized, ongoing way. There are just two exceptions: The only things a Christian is Scripturally obligated to do for the unsaved on a regular basis is to pray for them and preach the Gospel to them. Christians could do seriously more of that.
This is not to say that we should never help the unsaved, but if we do, it should be strictly in terms of what the Good Samaritan did. His service to the victim was a spontaneous, one-shot response to an obvious, legitimate and urgent need. And although he took full responsibility for the man he helped, there is nothing in the passage (Luke 10:30-37) to suggest that he made an ongoing ministry of doing that kind of thing.
Again, if you have two people in need of help, one a Christian and one unsaved, and you can only help one, you must help the Christian. See Galatians 6:10.
In connection with this, make "charitable donations" only to Christian ministries. Secular charities usually have big corporations that regularly support them for tax shelter purposes. These same corporations frequently have bylaws that forbid them to give donations to churches and ministries. So, as a faithful steward, give your money to the churches and ministries that need it.
In Matthew 7:6, in the middle of a passage that holds up the highest standards of Christian performance, Jesus said, "Do not....cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet and turn and tear you to pieces." This is emphasis by exaggeration, a literary form that Jesus used frequently. But He was telling us that there are people whom we are not supposed to help. This means, generally, the unsaved, and especially those who scoff at Christianity. Any Christian who makes himself a servant to such people is setting himself up to be needlessly abused. This writer has seen it happen. It is not God's will.
Again, in Matthew 8:22, Jesus told a man who wanted to go back home and bury his father before following him, to, "let the dead bury their dead". In other words, we should not do for the unsaved what they can very well do for themselves. We have better things to do.
On the other hand, we must be diligent about being servants to our fellow Christians, to the fullest extent that we find opportunity to do so. This is fulfilling the New Commandment of John 13:34 & 35:
"A new commandment I give to you,
that you love one another;
As I have loved you, that you also love one another.
By this all will know that you are My disciples,
if you have love for one another".
In giving this Commandment, Jesus was adding a third to the Two Greatest Commandments of Matthew 22:36-40. But this Commandment only applies to and among Christians. The overwhelming weight of the New Testament is the doctrine that Christians must put a priority on being servants to their fellow Christians, and only to their fellow Christians are far as any ongoing ministry is concerned. Failure on the part of any Christian to do so is failure to be truly obedient to Christ, and it will result in not being ready.
This writer has seen needy Christians turned away empty handed from a ministry that was systematically giving handouts to the unsaved homeless. Some of those homeless people were overtly criminal in their behavior, and some were Muslims who were openly hostile to Christianity. The Christians who run programs like this, for all they think that they are obeying God, will find out on Judgment Day that they are goats!
Again, service to our fellow Christians must not be just lip service. This requires action! As John said, expounding on the New Commandment (I John 3: 16 & 18),
"By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us.
And we ought also to lay down our lives for the brethren.
My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue,
But in deed and in truth."
Note that taken in context, both in John 15:13 and in I John 3:16, the expression "lay down (ones) life for..." is not about dying for someone. It is about being a servant to someone.
You should consider your relationships with your fellow Christians more important than your relationships with your blood relatives. Unless they are saved, those relationships will end at the grave if not sooner. But your relationships with your fellow Christians, who will truly be your relatives, will last forever. So put your efforts into building your relationships with them, through service.
You can live a life of piety in which you are separate from the world, fill your head with the Word until you are a walking concordance, and spend hours each day in prayer and fasting, and yet not be ready for the Second Coming because you failed to be a servant to your fellow Christians. This is the bottom line of being ready.
For more information on this topic, see the multi-page version of
Strangers And Pilgrims On The Earth
"Love One Another" and "Keeping My Brother's Money"
Contact Author, William D. Brehm