Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Tag: Rapture

THE BOOK OF REVELATION – I

 

Perhaps no book in the Bible is more fascinating and at the same time more perplexing than the Book of the Revelation. It has spawned numerous commentaries, debates, and even best-selling novels. It is, in fact, a book that has an important message for believers today. And yet we largely miss the point of the book, because we bring certain theological assumptions to it, and these assumptions obscure the theme of the book.

The most commonly held assumption is that the church will be raptured before the onset of the Great Tribulation. Since much of Revelation describes the events of the Tribulation, according to the Pretribulation Rapture theory these events will occur after the church is gone. Thus most of what the book says about the plight of the saints does not apply to us, and our main interest in the book is “when does it all take place”?

Many Christians, however, would be surprised to learn that the Pretribulation Rapture view is largely without scriptural evidence to support it. Even its advocates admit that there is no passage that explicitly says that the rapture of the church will occur before the Tribulation. Instead they rely on a series of inferences to support their position. The inferences, however, are tenuous at best.

Another position that has a long history behind it is that of Amillennialism. According to this view there will be no literal, earthly millennial kingdom as described in Revelation chapter 20. But the proponents of this theory typically use an ingenious method of interpretation to support their view – the “Recapitulation Theory.” It is ingenious, too ingenious in our estimation. It amounts to forced exegesis.

We believe that if the theme of the book is traced from beginning to end a startling but coherent interpretation emerges: the church will go through the tribulation, its faith will be severely tested, and it will be rewarded if it remains faithful to the end.

The message was directed initially to seven actual churches that existed in the Roman province of Asia (the western part of the modern country of Turkey) in the First Century. It was a time of persecution, apparently during the reign of the Roman Emperor Domitian (A.D. 81-96). John himself, who received the revelation, had been banished to the island of Patmos off the coast of Asia Minor.

The Revelation begins with a description of Jesus as “the ruler of the kings of the earth . . . who loved us and redeemed us from our sins”   Thus the book begins by establishing two basic facts, Christ is the sovereign Lord of history, and believers occupy a privileged position in the scheme of redemption. The text then goes on to say, “He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him . . .” (1:5-7; NKJV). This, of course, is a reference to the Second Coming of Christ, which is the focal point of the book.

Chapters 2 and 3 contain individual letters to the seven churches. All but two of the churches (Smyrna and Philadelphia) are criticized for their spiritual and moral laxity and are told to repent. Several churches, however, are commended for their perseverance. Significantly, the Greek word for “perseverance” (hypomone) occurs seven times in the book – it is, in fact, a major theme.

The church at Philadelphia is told about an “hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world” (3:10), an apparent reference to the Great Tribulation. And the purpose of the Tribulation is stated: viz., “to test those who dwell on the earth.” Each of the seven letters concludes with a promise to those who “overcome” (nikao – to conquer, prevail, be victorious, overcome). It is an ominous glimpse of what lies ahead.

In Chapter 4 attention is turned to “which must take place after this” (4:1). The vision of the future begins with the scene in heaven. Chapter 4 describes God as sitting on a throne, a symbol of power and authority. Then, in chapter 5, we are introduced to “the Lion of the tribe of Judah,” (v. 5) who turns out to be a Lamb! Although a Lamb, he is One who can break the seals on the scroll – to unlock the seals of history.

Then follows a succession of seals, trumpets, and bowls. Each event in heaven presages a corresponding event on earth: wars, natural disasters, and persecutions. The implication is that what happens on earth is controlled by decisions made in heaven. History does not unfold by accident or blind fate; it is purposefully guided by the hand of God.

The rationale for what happens in the end times is given to us in Rev. 6:9-11. After the fifth seal is opened the martyrs of the past cry out, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” The answer given is that the martyrs of the past “should rest a little while longer, until both the number oftheir fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.”

In Chapter 7 we are introduced to the 144,000 who are sealed on their foreheads, and after them a numberless multitude “of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues,” who are described as “the ones who came out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” To these are given a promise: they are before the throne of God, and God will dwell among them; “They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (7:9-17).

More natural disasters follow, and yet mankind still does not repent (9:20,21). Then, in Chapter 11 we are meet the two witnesses who prophesy for 3 1/2 years. They are gifted with supernatural powers, but are ultimately martyred and then resurrected. We then are shown the scene in heaven, in which the 24 elders fall on their faces before God and worship Him,

“. . . Because you have taken Your great power and reigned.

The nations were angry, and your wrath has come,

And the time of the dead, that they should be judged,

And that You should reward Your servants the prophets and saints,

And those who fear Your name, small and great,

And should destroy those who destroy the earth.” (11:17,18).

And thus the theme of the book is announced. It is about the justice of God, vindicating the persecuted saints and punishing their oppressors. And all of this reaches a climax with the appearance of the Antichrist.

THE DISPENSATIONAL INTERPRETATION

    So far we have looked at our Lord’s Olivet Discourse and Paul’s epistles to the Thessalonians to see if the widely held belief in a Pre-Tribulation Rapture is really scriptural. Our conclusion so far is that it is not.

    But what about the Book of Revelation? One would expect that if there is such a thing as a Pre-Tribulation Rapture one would find it there. Does the Book of Revelation teach such a thing?

    The short answer, admitted by even many Dispensationalists, is “no.” Most interpreters would agree that the rapture is not mentioned in the book. What the book does make clear, however, is that the Antichrist will persecute the saints. Is this not proof positive that the church will remain on earth throughout the Tribulation? Most Dispensationalists, however, would emphatically deny it. But who, then, are there “tribulation saints”?

    The usual Dispensationalist answer is that these are Jews who are converted after the church has been raptured. To most non-Dispensationalists this answer seems bizarre; “saints” are “saints.” The term is usually applied in the New Testament to Christians, whether Jew or Gentile. But to understand how Dispensationalists arrive at this conclusion one understand the internal logic of their system.

    The Dispensational approach to Scripture involves making sharp distinctions between different things, especially in the way God operates from one period of time to another. In the introduction to his famous Scofield Reference Bible C.I. Scofield quoted approvingly St. Augustine: “Distinguish the ages, and the Scriptures harmonize.” (The various periods of time in Scripture are sometimes referred to as “dispensations.”) In his classic little booklet Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth Dr. Scofield argued, on the basis of II Tim. 2:15, that the word of Truth has divisions, “so any study of that word which ignores these divisions must be in large measure profitless and confusing” (p. 3).

    The first such division that Dr. Scofield discusses in his booklet is between “The Jew, the Gentile, and the Church of God,” and he says that “comparing, then, what is said in Scripture concerning Israel and the Church, he finds that in origin, calling, promise, worship, principles of conduct, and future destiny – all is contrast” (p. 6). He then goes on to say, “In the predictions concerning the future of Israel and the Church, the distinction is still more striking. The church will be taken away from the earth entirely, but restored Israel is yet to have her greatest earthly splendor and power” (p. 9). In other words, God had two different chosen peoples, Israel and the Church, and has a separate plan and destiny for each. Thus it is possible for Dr. Scofield to argue that the Great Tribulation pertains to Israel – it is “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer. 30:7), and the Church has nothing to do with it.

    The underlying premise, however, is faulty. Paul specifically says that Christ “has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation . . . that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross . . . ” (Eph. 2:11-22; NKJV). And even if the premise were true, the conclusion does not logically follow from the premise. Just because Israel is destined to pass through the last Great Tribulation does not mean that the Church will not also pass through the same Tribulation. As we shall see when we examine the Book of Revelation, that is exactly what Christian believers, whether Jew or Gentile, should expect.

A PRETRIBULATION RAPTURE? – I

    One of the most commonly held misconceptions regarding the end times is the idea of a “Pretribulation Rapture” – the notion that the Christian church will be “raptured” (snatched away from earth) before the Great Tribulation of the end times begins. The word “rapture” comes from the Latin word used in I Thess. 4:17: “rapiemur cum illis” – “we shall be snatched away with them.” The text, however, does not say that this rapture will take place before the Tribulation. In fact, it implies that it will take place after. Many conservative, Bible-believing Christians will be startled to discover that the idea of a pretribulation rapture isn’t taught anywhere in Scripture. There is no passage of Scripture that says any such thing. The theory rests on the weakest of exegetical inferences.

    So what does the Bible really say on the subject? Let us return to our Lord’s description of the end times, the Olivet Discourse, recorded in Matthew chapters 24 and 25. As we have seen, Jesus’ disciples asked Him two questions: when will the temple be destroyed, and “what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matt. 24:3; NKJV). When the disciples asked the latter question they were undoubtedly thinking back to something that Jesus had told them previously. In the Parable of the Wheat and Tares recorded in Matt. 13:24-30 and explained in 13:36-43, Jesus had said that the “harvest” would come at “the end of this age” (te sunteleia tou aionos toutou – 13:40). The disciples properly understood this to coincide with the Lord’s Second Coming (tes ses parousias – 24:3). The question is, when would this event take place?

    Jesus proceeds to tell them that several things must take place first, including the Great Tribulation – “a great tribulation, such as not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matt. 24:21). He then foes on to say, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days . . . all of the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (vv. 29,30).

    Up until this point our Dispensationalist brethren would have no problems with what we have said. They would agree wholeheartedly that the Second Coming of Christ “with power and great glory” will occur after the Tribulation. They insist, however, that the church will have been raptured seven years previous to the Second Coming.

    When we look at the broader context, however, there are serious problems with this scenario. Jesus has been addressing His disciples and warning them all along that when they see certain things they should not be deceived by false Messiahs and prophets. Then, in describing the Tribulation itself He says, “And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved, bur for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened” (v. 22). One would naturally expect that the “elect” would be Christian believers who will be alive at the time.

    Jesus then goes on to say that at His Second Coming “they will gather together (episunazousin) His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (v. 31). Jesus goes on to explain that His Coming will be very sudden and unexpected, that no one knows the exact day or the hour. He then cites the examples of the two men in the field, and the two women grinding at the mill, and says of each, “one will be taken and the other left” (vv. 40,41). One would certainly think that this refers to the rapture, which Christ says will occur at “the coming (he parousia) of the Son of Man” (v. 39).

    And then Jesus makes the main point of the entire discourse: “Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming . . . Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (vv. 42-44).

    In other words, the “Pre-Trib” position misses the whole point of the passage. The Olivet Discourse was given to us specifically to warn us to be ready when the Lord returns “after the tribulation of those days” (v. 29, emphasis mine). We can expect to meet our Lord in the skies at the end of the Great Tribulation.

    Jesus then goes on to reinforce the point with three parables: The Faithful Servant and the Evil Servant (24:45-51), The Wise and the Foolish Virgins (25:1-13), and the Talents (25:14-30), all of which stress the importance of being faithful and ready until Christ returns. The focus of the entire discourse, then, is on the Second Coming of Christ at the end of the Tribulation, and the clear implication is that the saints will be here on earth until the very end. There is no ground whatsoever for the belief that Christians will be spared form the Tribulation.

    Some Dispensationalists have tried to evade the difficulty by asserting that since the Gospel of Matthew was written primarily to a Jewish audience, in the Olivet Discourse Jesus was addressing His disciples as representatives of the Jewish nation, and therefore the discourse does not apply to the Gentile church. The flaw in this argument is that most of Matthew 24 is repeated in Mark 13, and even though Mark was writing for a broader audience, he made no attempt to explain to his Gentile readers that the Olivet Discourse was intended only for Jews. The discourse really has to be regarded as intended for the Christian church as a whole.

    We are headed for the Great Tribulation!

THE END OF THE AGE AS FORETOLD BY JESUS

    To view the course of current events one might think that the tide of history is running against Christianity. The widespread acceptance of the Theory of Evolution, a thoroughly secularized educational system, rampant consumerism and the breakdown of public morality all bode ill for the future of religion. Christianity, it would seem, is about to become a thing of the past.

    Or will it be? There are several problems with this scenario. First of all, the present course of modern society is simply unsustainable. Contemporary American society is plagued with chronic social, economic and political problems. Our political and economic system cannot survive social chaos. Something will eventually have to give way to something else. But what will it be? Dictatorship? Islam?

    Secondly, nothing in modern science or philosophy changes the basic facts of human existence. The rational order of the universe, and our uniqueness as human beings still exist in spite of Darwin’s attempts to deny both. We are still confronted with the basic questions of justice, human rights and morality, and we must still face the fact of our own mortality. Science has no answers to these questions. Whether we admit it or not, we must still function in a universe created by God.

    But more to the point, the course of history was predicted in the Bible. Far from being the demise of Christianity, recent developments are ultimately all a part of God’s eternal plan. The stage is very well being set for the grand finale of human history. The world is ripe for divine judgment.

    Right at the very beginning Jesus foretold the end. In the second part of the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24 Jesus comes to describe a final time of persecution and distress. He mentions an “the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet” (v. 15; NKJV). This is an apparent reference to a supreme act of sacrilege that will take place during the end time, similar to the one committed by the Syrian king Antiochus IV Epiphanes when he desecrated the temple in Jerusalem in 167 B.C. Jesus, however, does not elaborate on the exact nature of the sacrilege except that it will be “standing in the holy place” – perhaps an idol of some sort erected on the temple mount in Jerusalem.

    At that point “the Great Tribulation” will ensue. It be both sudden and severe. There will be no time for escape, and “unless those days had been shortened; no flesh would be saved: but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened” (v. 22).

    Again there will be false messiahs and false prophets, at least some of whom will claim to be able to perform miracles (v. 24). Jesus specifically warns us about them ahead of time, so that we will not be taken in by them. The emphasis throughout the passage is on the importance of remaining faithful to the true Messiah.

    This, then, if followed by the Second Coming (Parousia) of Christ. It will be sudden, dramatic, and visible (vv. 27-30). It will be as quick as a flash of lightning, and will be accompanied by celestial omens. The human race will see Him and mourn.

    In must be pointed out that it is at this point, “immediately after the tribulation of those days” (v. 29) that the Rapture of the church will take place. “And He sends His angels with a great sound of a trumpet and will father together His elect from the four winds, from one corner of the heavens to another” (v. 31). It will be noted that they are referred to as “His elect,” implying that they especially belong to Christ – they were redeemed by His blood. They are, in fact, the church.

    This, then, is what will happen. But when it will happen? On this question Jesus makes two important points. The first is that there will be “signs” that will tell us when the end is near. Jesus compares these signs to a fig tree (vv. 32,33). When the leaves sprout, the harvest is near.

    But then Jesus goes on to qualify His answer. “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels in the heavens, but My Father only” (v. 36). Thus there is a certain amount of uncertainty surrounding the exact timing of the Second Coming, and that uncertainty is deliberate, for it leads us to an important practical lesson. Jesus compares the Second Coming to the situation that existed in the days of Noah. The wicked were taken by surprise and were completely unprepared (vv. 37-39). So, too, it will be at the end time. People will be going about their daily routines, completely unaware that anything extraordinary is about to happen. And then, suddenly and unexpectedly, the Lord will return. It is at this point that the saints will be raptured, and the wicked left to perish (vv. 40,41).

    This, then, brings us to the main practical lesson of the Olivet Discourse: we must live every day as though it were our last day here on earth. We must live every day in the expectation that our Lord could come at any time, and that we will see Him face-to-face. Thus eschatology (the doctrine of the last things) has a bearing on how we live our lives now: we are to be ever watchful and always ready (vv. 42-44).