Sunday, January 18, 2009

Ready for What’s Next? (Part 3)

January 18, 2009

Volume 3, Number 4

"The anger of the LORD will not turn back until He has performed and carried out the purposes of His heart; in the last days you will clearly understand it." (Jer 23:20)[1]

But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. (2 Tim 3:1)

In the last two articles, we learned that Christ's first coming was accurately foretold by the prophets more than 400 years before the event. On closer examination, we also learned the incredible improbability that one man could perhaps fulfill just eight of those prophesies, much less 48. Yet Jesus fulfilled every one of the prophecies concerning His first coming. Based on the precision of biblical prophecy in regard to Jesus' first coming, we can place complete confidence in its forecast of His second coming. With one eye on the Bible and the other on recent history and current events, we were able to see that Christ's return is very near at hand. Jesus said, "… when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." (Luke 21:28)

Preparing for a Certain, Yet Uncertain Future

Most Christians believe that Christ is coming again, and many would agree that the time is very close at hand. However, there are varying views as to how this will transpire. The time when Christ will physically rule over all the nations of the earth is commonly referred to as the millennial kingdom or the millennial reign of Christ. This comes from the recurring reference to 1000 years in Revelation chapter 20. This is the only place in the Bible that Messiah's reign is given a definite number of years. The Old Testament speaks of Christ's earthly reign without reference to a specific amount of time.[2] There really is no conflict here when one remembers that Old Testament prophecy focused on the physical nation of Israel; in fact, all end-time prophecy does. To the prophets of the Old Testament, there was an unseen valley between the peaks of two great mountains. The first mountain was His First Advent and the second was His Second Advent. What the Old Testament prophets could not see was the valley between the two mountains that we call the Church Age. Beyond that, Messiah's reign, as viewed by the Old Testament prophets, coincides with the creation of "new heavens and a new earth;"[3] they are practically the same thing. What the book of Revelation does is present a clearer picture of King Jesus and His reign on earth and in the eternal "new heaven and new earth" – something that was not revealed to the prophets of the Old Testament. The common factor is that Christ will reign forever.

Among Christians, there are three major views concerning the millennial reign of Christ on earth and how that will take place: amillenial, post-millennial and pre-millennial. The amillennial view says that there is no thousand year reign of Christ on earth. They see the 1000 years described in Revelation, Chapter 20 as allegorical in describing the Church Age, the end of which will usher in eternity. The reign of Christ is seen as having begun in His life or following His resurrection and ascension.[4] Prophesies concerning Israel are attributed to the Church which replaces Israel as God's chosen people. One preacher jokingly said that upon Christ's return to reign on earth the amillenialists would be recognized as the ones standing around saying, "Ahhhh!"

The post-millennial view believes that Christians will evangelize the world until the world becomes a better place for a thousand years. At the end of the thousand years, Christ will return and eternity will begin. Obviously, hopes for such a thing are dismal as we see our world in a fast downhill slide toward depravity. Finally, the pre-millennial view accepts the 1000 years described in Revelation, Chapter 20 as the literal 1000-year reign of Christ on earth at His second coming. All the promises of Israel's rise to world prominence will be fulfilled. The nations of the world will come to worship Christ at His temple in Jerusalem,[5] and He will reign over all the nations[6] as foretold by the prophets of old.

Most evangelical Christians hold the pre-millennial view of end-time prophecy, but even here there are differences in opinion as to how it will all come to pass. There is this idea of the "rapture" of the church that supposedly takes place before Christ's return. The word "rapture" is never used in the Bible, but the concept is derived from a passage in 1 Thessalonians where Paul writes: For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. (1 Thess 4:16-17) The phrase "caught up" translates the Greek word harpazo, which means to seize. Translated to Latin, the word is raptura from which we get rapture. It is not the concept of rapture that is in question, because it is clear that a catching away will take place. The question comes in the timing of the rapture. When will it take place?

In the pre-millennial camp there are three views of the rapture. The first and most popular view (for obvious reasons) is the Pre-Tribulation Rapture. This view holds the hope that the Church will be raptured before the seven-year tribulation period described by Daniel the Prophet, by Jesus Christ and by John the Apostle,[7] and we will be spared the horrors of that time. The second view is the Mid-Tribulation Rapture. In this view the Church will be raptured in the middle of the Tribulation when the Antichrist reveals himself, and just before the beginning of Great Tribulation – the last (and worst) three and a half years of the seven-year Tribulation.[8] Finally, the Post-Tribulation Rapture view claims that the Church will endure the seven-year Tribulation and not be raptured until the moment just before Christ returns. Understandably, this is the least popular view.

Any of these three views could be right. Most of us would naturally favor a pre-Tribulation rapture view. Most of our favorite pastors favor this view. The authors of the great Left Behind series, Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, favor this view. Personally, I like it because it means we will not have to endure the suffering that will be brought upon the whole earth during that time. But, what if that view is not right? What if we, the Church, have to endure the Tribulation, either half or all the way through to the end? Are we prepared to face that? Are we strong enough in our faith to endure that?

What is the basis for a belief in a Pre-Tribulation rapture?

As quoted above, 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 assures us that there will be a rapture: "the Lord Himself will descend with a shout … the dead in Christ will rise first … then we who are alive and remain will be caught up [raptured] together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air …" This provides for us a sequence of events: (1) the Lord will descend with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and the trumpet of God (I believe this will be audible), (2) those that have died "in Christ" – Christians that have died in the past – will rise first, (3) then we who are alive and remain will be raptured together with them, (4) we will meet the Lord in the air, and (5) we will always be with the Lord. Nowhere does it give a clue as to the timing of this event. At what point in time does this happen? Does it occur before the Tribulation starts? Does it happen at the time that the Tribulation begins? Does it take place in the midst of Great tribulation or at the end when Christ returns? This verse cannot be used to substantiate a pre-Tribulation rapture. Later on, 1 Thessalonians 5:2 tells us that "the day of the Lord [referring to the Lord's judgment] so comes as a thief in the night." This verse could be used in support of a pre-Tribulation rapture because IF it is certain, Christians and the world in general will not be expecting it. Furthermore, the next verse (v.3) says, "For when they say, "Peace and safety!' then sudden destruction will come upon them …" "They" and "them" are not "us" Christians. This would not be true for Christians living in the Tribulation period, because the signs have been made very clear to us. Additionally, Paul says (v.4), "But you, brethren, are not in darkness so that this Day [the Day of the Lord] should overtake you as a thief." Why would this admonition matter, if the church is not present through the Tribulation? If we are in heaven, this would not apply to us, yet Paul speaks as if it does. As one reads on, one comes to 1 Thessalonians 5:9 telling us that "God did not appoint us for wrath …" but when read it in context, Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to be sober and watchful in this present world so that these things should not catch them (or us) by surprise. So, is the "wrath" spoken of the Tribulation or is it hell? The next part of that verse says, "but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ." Ultimately our destiny is eternal life with Christ, not salvation from the trials and tribulations of this life, so this verse can hardly be used as an argument for the Pre-Tribulation Rapture.

In his second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul writes to these Christians to inform them as to how they will recognize the "day of the Lord."[9] Evidently these Christians interpreted the persecution they were experiencing as the time of Tribulation. Paul then tries to ease their minds and set their thinking straight concerning Christ's second coming. He tells them that first of all, there will be a falling away from (Greek: apostasía; English: apostasy), or leaving of the faith. We see this happening today in many of our major Christian denominations. Even in our strong Christian homes, our children are abandoning their faith (or perhaps in reality, our faith) and following after the ways of the world. What is frightening is that there seems to be no reversal of this trend. A second sign that Paul offers is the revelation of the "man of sin" or the Antichrist. This coming world ruler is prophesied in Daniel 11:36-37 and Revelation 13:1-10. The question is, why would Paul offer this second sign to Christians, if Christians will not be here to witness it?

Those who favor a pre-Tribulation rapture often point to the first four chapters of Revelation to garner support. They draw attention to the fact that in the first three chapters, Jesus is addressing churches that existed at the time of John's writing. Then suddenly in chapter four John says, After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things." Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne. (Rev 4:1-2) Following this, the church on earth is never addressed again. John's visionary rapture is therefore equated to the rapture of the church, but this "coincidence" cannot be supported without involving a great deal of eisegesis – reading things into the text. Saints are spoken of by John in his vision, but often it is unclear if the saints are in heaven or on earth. In Revelation 13:7, 10 and 14:12, the saints spoken of are being martyred on earth. Pre-tribbers will argue that these are the Tribulations saints that were saved "after" the rapture, but we have yet to undeniably prove the pre-Tribulation rapture. Now, just because John is given this heavenly perspective of the seven-year Tribulation does not necessarily qualify him to be the representation of the raptured Church in heaven.

In his latest book, What in the World is Going On?, Dr. David Jeremiah affirms the pre-Tribulation rapture by citing John 14:1-3. "All true Christians will be caught up from the earth and raptured into the presence of the Lord before the seven-year period of evil, the Tribulation, breaks throughout the earth. This will fulfill the promise He made to His disciples in John 14:1-3. … Followers of Christ who are raptured will be spared the trauma of death and the coming disasters that will occur when the Tribulation breaks out upon the earth."[10] In the passage cited by Dr. Jeremiah, Jesus promises that He is going to prepare a place for us, and that He will return for us "that where I am, there you may be also." (John 14:3) Again, this promises His return, but it does not specify "when" He will return. Furthermore, even though one might imply the rapture from this promise, the timing issue remains unknown.

Some who insist on a pre-Tribulation rapture rely upon God's past record in saving His people from judgment. They will often refer to Enoch who did not experience death, but was taken into the presence of God.[11] Noah and his family were saved from God's judgment upon the earth by the global flood.[12] Lot and his family were saved from God's judgment upon Sodom and Gomorrah.[13] Elijah did not see death, but was taken into heaven by a whirlwind.[14] As one examines these examples closely, they can hardly be used as models for a pre-Tribulation rapture. Enoch was taken up by God for his faithfulness in a sinful world, and he did not escape the judgment of God upon those around him, unless one considers death the judgment of God. In that case, one might have a valid point.[15] Noah and his family were saved, but they had to endure the hardships of the global flood. The ark was huge, but can you say "cabin fever?" Imagine being cooped up in that floating zoo for almost an entire year! That is tribulation! Lot was spared God's judgment, but that was mostly due to Abraham's pleading to the Lord on his behalf and not due to any merit on Lot's part.[16] Lot's family was scarcely the model of holiness. Lot did not want to get too far away from Sodom even though he knew of the coming judgment.[17] His wife was turned into a pillar of salt for looking back toward the city during their escape[18] and later both of Lot's daughters got him drunk and committed incest with him in order to produce children.[19] Lot was not exactly rapture material. His name never made it to the Hebrews 11 "Faith Hall of Fame," so he is indeed a poor example to support the pre-Tribulation rapture. Finally, Elijah was not taken up to save him from tribulation but simply because God decided that his work on earth was done – for that time. Some believe that Elijah will return to earth to finish his work as one of the two witnesses described in Revelation 11:1-13 during the Tribulation. If this is true, he will not escape the Tribulation.

Christ is coming soon. The scene for His appearance is rapidly being set. All of humanity is running to and fro, totally focused on their personal wants and desires, and completely oblivious to the perilous times in which we are living. Sadly, many so called Christians are caught in the same downward spiraling vortex of human depravity being sucked down into the very pit of hell. Their only hope is on this tenuous concept of a pre-Tribulation rapture. For all our sakes, I pray that it comes to pass. But Christian, if you have to walk through the coming test of fire known as the Tribulation, are you prepared to do battle with the enemy? Are you embarrassed or ashamed to stand for Christ in these days? Will you stand for Him when the real test comes? If you fear the loss of your job for sharing your faith, will you succumb to the mark of the beast in order to buy and sell?[20] Are you ready for what's next?



[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quoted is from THE NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE UPDATE. (The Lockman Foundation, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995).
[2] Isaiah 11:4; Jeremiah 3:17; Zechariah 14:9
[3] Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1-2
[4] Acts 2:33-36
[5] Isaiah 60
[6] Revelation 19:15
[7] Daniel 12; Matthew 24:4-26; Mark 13:5-23; Luke 21:8-24; Revelation 5-19
[8] Matthew 24:15-28; Mark 13:14-20; Luke 21: 20-24
[9] 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12
[10] Jeremiah, David, What in the World is Going On? (Thomas Nelson, Nashville, 2008), pp. 98-99.
[11] Genesis 4:3-5; Hebrews 11:5
[12] Genesis 6:13-22; Hebrews 11:7; 1 Peter 3:20
[13] Genesis 19
[14] 2 Kings 2:11
[15] Genesis 3:19
[16] Genesis 18:16-27
[17] Genesis 19:18-22
[18] Genesis 19:26
[19] Genesis 19:30-38

[20] Revelation 13:16-18

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