Contents of this chapter
72 Signs of the Times
73 An angel gave John the Revelation
74 The Second Coming
75 The Great Tribulation
76 What is the Rapture?
77 Three views of the Rapture
78 Pre-tribulation Rapture
79 Mid-tribulation Rapture
80 Post-tribulation Rapture
81 How do the two testaments relate?
83 When was Revelation written?
84 The Millennium
85 The Throne of David and the sacrifices
86 Many areas of agreement
87 A personal perspective
88 John’s vision concerning the history of the world
92 Daniel’s 70 weeks
93 Have the Jews been written out of the end times story?
94 What about the Rapture?
95 Anyone with ears to hear should listen
96 Why would God allow a Great Tribulation?
97 Twenty-One terrible Judgments
98 Timeless imagery or historical chronology?
99 The first resurrection and the Millennium
71 The Revelation
Three of the four gospels include a record of Jesus telling his disciples that heaven and Earth will pass away (Mat 24:35, Mark 13:31, Luke 21:33). Throughout history many writers have referred to the period immediately before this final, cataclysmic end as the end times or the last days. The OT has many books (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Micah, Nahum, Zechariah and Malachi), which include references to the “last days,” while the NT Greek language makes a distinction between the last day and the last days. The “last days” is generally accepted as the period of time leading up to the last day, when evil will finally be destroyed. Many believe this period began with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, while others believe it began when Israel became a nation in 1948. Whatever one might think about the time-frame of the biblical last days, the church has eagerly anticipated the return of Christ since His ascension, which will be followed by the end of this present world and the creation of the new heaven and the new Earth.
The NT looks forward to a time when all things will be put under the reign and rule of God, through the intercession of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the coming Kingdom. Those who are part of this Kingdom will be immortal beings, with bodies like Jesus’ risen body; they will be those who have been born again (John 3:3) and have put on immortality (1Cor 15:53). This is not a kingdom of disembodied souls. The risen Lord Jesus Christ is the beginning of this new, eternal creation (1 Cor 15:20), but before it can be manifested the old one must pass away.
In Matthew’s gospel (Mat 13:24-30), Jesus tells a parable about a farmer who plants good grain seed in a field and an enemy who comes along and oversows bad seed into the same field. The farmer instructs his workers to let the good and bad seed grow together because they would disturb the good seed by weeding out the bad. At harvest time, when all the plants have grown to maturity, they can sort the bad from the good and destroy the bad.
The disciples asked Jesus to explain the parable for them, so He told them that the field is the world and the seed represents the peoples of the world; the good seed was sown by Him and the bad seed by Satan. He goes on to explain that the harvest is the end of the world and the reapers are the angels who will sort out the people at the end of time. There will be those who have chosen not to become part of God’s eternal kingdom, and others, who have recognised the Creator as their Lord and Saviour. Just as the weeds are sorted out and cast into the fire, so it will be at the end of the world (Mat 13:39-40). The farmer does not keep the uprooted weeds, they are destroyed by fire, as the angels prepare the Earth for the reign and rule of the Creator.
The Bible is filled with passages concerning the end of this present world. Our Father wants us to take His Word seriously, this world will pass away. However, the prophecies concerning the last days and end times (particularly the Revelation of John the Apostle) can appear quite incomprehensible when first approached. Thankfully, Christians also “stand on the shoulders of giants.” I am deeply thankful that living in this time and space means I have access to the most amazing technology, as well as the wisdom and spiritual insight of thousands of members of the Body of Christ, to help me sort through what could potentially be a quagmire of interpretations of end times prophecies. With all this help I feel I can attempt a very basic outline on how to approach this topic.
Throughout the NT the physical return of the Lord Jesus Christ to Earth is closely associated with the end times. Just like people today, Jesus’ followers wanted to know when the end times would be. Like us, they wanted to know how long God will allow evil to persist. The disciples asked Jesus directly for the signs they should be looking for that would herald the coming of the end times and His return. Matthew tells us:
Later, Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives. His disciples came to Him privately and said, “Tell us, when will all this happen? What sign will signal Your return and the end of the world? ” (Matthew 24:3)
Jesus gave the disciples a summary of things they should look for to signal the approach of the end times. Some people believe Jesus was talking about the nation of Israel and the coming destruction of the temple that occurred in 70AD, which would be the end of the world His disciples knew at that time. However, like the great majority of believers in the church today, I think He was actually referring to a literal end of this physical world, which will be closely preceded by His Second Coming.
72 Signs of the Times
The issue of whether the Lord Jesus Christ will return to Earth is not really debated in the church. The great majority of biblical Christians eagerly await the return of the Lord Jesus Christ, but the events preceding His Second Coming are extremely contentious. There are a number of events mentioned throughout scripture that are referred to as the signs of the approach of the end of the world, or the “Signs of the Times.” Throughout church history Christians have looked for these signs and many have made attempts at identifying the antichrist mentioned by John (1 John). Jesus calls these signs “the beginning of sorrows” (Mat 24:8) and they are found in both Old and New Testaments. Some of these signs include:
• Israel will be restored as a political state (Deuteronomy 30:3-5; Jeremiah 29:14, 30:3; Ezekiel 36:24-38, 39:29 ; Joel 2; Amos 9:14-15).
• Good will be called evil and evil good (Isaiah 5:20).
• The mountains will be made low and the valleys made high (Isaiah 40:4).
• The Lord will reveal His glory and everyone will see it (Isaiah 40:5).
• Israel will be prosperous and become the envy of her neighbours, who will attack her, but God will protect her (Ezekiel 38).
• Many will travel to and fro (Daniel 12:4).
• Knowledge will increase (Daniel 12:4)
• The Spirit will be poured out on all flesh (Joel 2:28, Acts 2:17).
• The sun will be darkened and the moon will become as blood (Joel 2:31, Acts 2:20, Revelation 6:12).
• There will be false Messiahs, prophets and religious leaders who will deceive many people with lying signs and wonders (Matthew 24:5, 9; Luke 21:8; Mark 13:22).
• There will be numerous wars and rumours of wars, with international instability (Matthew 24:6-7 and Luke 21:9; Mark 13:7).
• There will be earthquakes, famines, pandemics, signs from heaven and horrific sights on Earth (Matthew 24:7: Luke 21:11; Mark 13:8).
• The gospel will be published and proclaimed throughout the entire world (Matthew 24:14, Mark 13:10; Revelation 14:6-7).
• Christians will be persecuted and hated by their own family members, religious leaders, worldly rulers and almost everyone who is not a follower of Jesus (Matthew 24:9; Luke 21:12-16; Mark 13:9-13).
• Hate will be far more common than selfless, godly love (Matthew 24:10, 12).
• Wickedness, murder and crime will increase (Matthew 24:12).
• God will pour out His Spirit on gentiles as well as Jews and people will prophesy, see visions and have prophetic dreams (Acts 2:17).
• People will turn away from the God of The Bible (2 Thes 2:3).
• The “man of lawlessness,” the one who brings doom and destruction, will be revealed (2 Thes 2:3).
• Many people will leave Christianity, having been deluded by myths perpetrated by deceiving, seducing spirits (1Tim 4:1).
• Some false churches will insist on celibacy and restricted diets, which are not teachings from God (1Tim 4:3).
• Life will become very difficult (2 Tim 3:1).
• People will love themselves, money and pleasure rather than God (2 Tim 3:2, 4).
• People will be boastful and proud and scoff at authority and the idea of the God of The Bible (2 Tim 3:2; Jude 1:8).
• People will be ungrateful and no longer respect their parents (2 Tim 3:2).
• People will be unloving and unforgiving and prone to slander others (2 Tim 3:3).
• People will be cruel and undisciplined and hate what is good, rather than listening to God they will follow their own desires and impulses (2 Tim 3:3).
• People will act in “religious” ways but reject the only true God and His power to enable them to be truly godly (2 Tim 3:5).
• People will not recognise the truth but will prefer myths (2 Tim 4:3-4).
• People will reject the idea of a Creator and laugh at the idea of Jesus returning (2 Peter 3:3-4).
Jesus told His disciples not to worry about what they should do or say during this time of upheaval, because His Spirit would guide them and give them opportunities to share the gospel (Matthew 24:6; Mark 13:7,11; Luke 21:9,13). He often instructed His followers to keep watch and stay alert for His return (Matthew 24:42; 25:13; Mark 13:9, 23, 33-37, Luke 21:35). He assured them:
….. when you see all these things taking place, you can know that the Kingdom of God is near. (Luke 21:31)
He also said:
But this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come. (Mark 13:8b)
This is a powerful metaphor. It gives us a vivid picture of the final days of this present world’s history. Jesus is predicting the events outlined in the Revelation will occur after the commencement of these signs, which are the first of the “birth pains”. As with labour pains, there will be a gradual increase in intensity during the time of distress and suffering, as the new Kingdom is brought into existence. After the initial signs begin, the events will accelerate and become more and more difficult to ignore, as they lead up to the return of Christ.
73 An angel gave John the Revelation
Most of the information concerning the end times is contained in the Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God disclosed to John when an angel came to him (Rev 1:1) on the Isle of Patmos (Rev 1:9).
This is a book of frightening imagery. John records that the gloriously resurrected Lord Jesus Christ asked him to:
Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter. (Rev 1:19)
John faithfully recorded what he “hast seen” throughout chapter one. Chapters two and three of the book relate to the “things which are”; the state of the church at the time of writing. Then John was transported to heaven to see the things that would happen “hereafter”. The events that John recorded in the following chapters of the book of Revealtion have been viewed by most Christians throughout the church age as the prophetic outline of the final episode of this present world’s history.
Revelation begins with the declaration that God will bless those who read, those who listen and those who obey the prophecy (Rev 1:3). Despite this promised blessing, believers often avoid prophecy, and particularly the book of Revelation, because it is difficult to understand and there have been heated debates over the meaning of John’s vision and Jesus’ words concerning this present creation’s final days.
Revelation has been designated as apocryphal literature in some circles. The Online Etymology Dictionary describes the word apocrypha as:
secret, not approved for public reading,” from Greek apokryphos “hidden; obscure.” (see)
However, the first three verses of the Revelation reveal that this book should be neither secret, nor hidden or obscure. Not only are we blessed by reading, listening and obeying God’s Word in Revelation, but we also discover Jesus instructed John many times to make sure this message was available to the churches. There is no reason for us to avoid studying the Lord’s Revelation, we can read it in the same way we read the rest of The Bible, that is, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (John 14:26; 2Tim 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20).
In the very first word of the book we discover it is actually an apokalypsis, which means it is an “unveiling” or “revelation.” As such, we need to study and seek to understand its message. It is the final message in God’s progressive revelation and a major part of the many passages of The Bible that carry God’s prophetic outline for the end of this world.
During the history of the church, a number of schools of thought have arisen, as individuals and groups attempt to create systematic doctrine based on the unfulfilled prophecies throughout The Bible. One important aspect that influences such doctrine is where one stands on the continuum of whether prophecy should be seen as totally allegorical (figurative/symbolic) at one extreme, or as a hyper-literal, chronological, prophetic progression at the other.
Although no doctrine is ever really frozen and unchanging, the varying schools of thought can generally be distinguished by attitudes and beliefs concerning The Second Coming (Acts 1:10-11), The Great Tribulation (Mat 24:21) and The Millennium (Rev 20:1-7).
74 The Second Coming
In the 260 chapters of the NT there are about 300 references to the return of Jesus to our beautiful planet. It is no doubt this fact that has led to the vast majority of biblical Christians eagerly anticipating the return of the Lord Jesus Christ to Earth at some future time. While a few groups have claimed the return happened when the Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost and we now live in the Kingdom Age, the Second Coming is still eagerly anticipated by the vast majority of Christians throughout the world and the various denominations.
A number of scriptural passages indicate that when He returns, Jesus will descend from the sky accompanied by His angels. Matthew records Jesus telling the disciples:
For the Son of Man will come with His angels in the glory of His Father and will reward all people. according to their deeds. (Mat 16:27)
Later Jesus explained:
And then at last, the sign that the Son of Man is coming will appear in the heavens, and there will be deep mourning among all the peoples of the Earth. And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. (Matthew 24:30)
…….And in the future you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matthew 26:64b)
These two verse seem to make it clear that the Second Coming is indeed yet to occur, as so far, there is no record of such an event taking place in history.
In the book of Acts Luke describes Jesus’ ascension and has recorded the words of the angels who were there:
….. He was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see Him. As they strained to see Him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday He will return from heaven in the same way you saw Him go!” (Act 1:9-11)
And John adds:
Look! He comes with the clouds of heaven. And everyone will see Him—even those who pierced Him. And all the nations of the world will mourn for Him. Yes! Amen! (Rev 1:7)
However, before Jesus returns, The Bible also teaches there will be a time of great tribulation on the Earth.
75 The Great Tribulation
A time of tribulation was referred to over fifty times in the OT with a number of different terms being used. These include the “day of calamity,” “day of wrath,” “day of the Lord’s wrath,” “day of Jacob’s trouble,” “day of vengeance of our God,” “time of trouble” and the “day of the Lord.” All these terms were mentioned in relation to the nation of Israel and could be viewed as having been fulfilled, to some extent, throughout their history. Although some believers insist Israel has been written out of future prophetic evens, many Christians today would contend that Israel’s place in Bible history was not completely superseded by the church, and there is still a future episode for that nation yet to be played out. There are also aspects of many of these OT prophecies that appear to be awaiting fulfilment.
Both Peter and Paul referred to “the day of the Lord” and Paul warned against us believing “that day” had already come. He made it clear, “that day will not come until there is a great rebellion against God and the man of lawlessness is revealed.” (2 Thes 2:3) As with the OT references to that day, Peter and Paul both saw it as a day of judgment and great distress. The prophet Amos summed up the OT references to that day when he warned:
What sorrow awaits you who say, “If only the day of the LORD were here!” You have no idea what you are wishing for. That day will bring darkness, not light. (Amos 5:18)
And Peter informs us:
But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be found to deserve judgment. (2 Peter 3:10)
The day of the Lord culminates in the judgment and destruction of this present world. Leading up to this destruction is a time of great tribulation. To understand how the time of trouble in the OT relates to the NT, particularly the Revelation of John, it is helpful to read Daniel’s prophecies concerning the end times. As a rule, most eschatologists seek to find a harmony between the prophecies of both the Old and New Testaments that refer to the end of days. Jesus referred to the book of Daniel (Mat 24:15) when discussing the end times, which could be seen as indicating to His disciples that Daniel is indeed the key to an understanding of end times prophecy. Just after mentioning Daniel, Jesus warned His followers about a Great Tribulation that would come to the world. He said:
For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. (Matthew 24:21-22)
The Great Tribulation is also mentioned in the Revelation:
….. These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. (Rev 7:14b)
The book of Revelation is generally accepted as the place in which the worldwide disasters and upheavals that have been predicted for the end times are adumbrated. There have been a variety of systematic approaches to interpreting these prophesies and two particular areas are often debated, these are the place of the church and the role of national Israel during this time of universal catastrophes.
The four main schools of thought concerning the Great Tribulation and the end times are Preterism, Historicism, Idealism and Futurism.
• Preterism views the scriptures that indicate end times prophecies will be fulfilled in the immediate future as an indication that in Matthew’s gospel Jesus was talking about tribulation for the Jews and that his prophecies and those found in Revelation were all fulfilled before 400 AD. Full preterists do not believe in a future, physical, Second Coming of Christ.
• Historicism asserts that most of the prophecies in the book of Daniel, the gospels and Revelation describe the literal, earthly history of the Church Age, as it has been unfolding over the last 20 centuries. Historicists are often concerned with the struggle between what they consider to be the true church and the apostate church. This view was particularly prevalent during the Reformation. Today, historicists are generally amongst the Adventists. This approach does not restrict itself to any particular view of the Millennium, pre-, post- and amillennialists may all be historicists.
• Idealism takes a spiritual or allegorical approach to prophecy and tends to view all the imagery of Revelation as non-literal symbolism, which illustrates the battle between the Kingdom of God and Satan. They understand this battle as being an ongoing struggle and consequently view the events described as relevant in all ages. They are neither past, present nor future, rather they illustrate larger principles and ideals in the battle between light and darkness. Some forms of Idealism do not believe in a future, physical, Second Coming of Christ.
• Futurism maintains most of the prophecies found in Daniel, the gospels and Revelation will be fulfilled in the future with literal, real world, apocalyptic and global events. Futurists take a plain reading approach to prophecy and although they admit symbolism is used extensively, they stress that the chronology and participants can be seen as literal (eg the tribes of Israel in Rev 7 are actually Jewish converts). In this view there is no doubt that catastrophic, global events will be part of the Great Tribulation, which will herald the end of this present world.
Adherents of all these views are active in the church today, but perhaps the idealist and the futurist views are the most popular. The traditional Protestant and Catholic churches have tended towards the idealist view in the last few centuries (although the Catholic Church adds a few extra teachings (eg purgatory)); however, many who identify themselves as evangelical Christians, now favour the futurist view. Those who hold to the inerrancy of The Bible often subscribe to this view. As Dr Patrick Zukeran explains:
Futurists argue that a consistently literal or plain interpretation is to be applied in understanding the book of Revelation. Literal interpretation of The Bible means to explain the original sense, or meaning, of The Bible according to the normal customary usage of its language. This means applying the rules of grammar, staying consistent with the historical framework, and the context of the writing. Literal interpretation does not discount figurative or symbolic language. Futurists teach that prophecies using symbolic language are also to be normally interpreted according to the laws of language (see).
Thus Bible believing Christians, who hold to the inerrancy of The Bible, would accept the futurist approach as consistent with their attitude to the rest of the scriptures. It is perhaps for this reason that this position has become the most common view amongst what are commonly referred to as “fundamentalist” Christians.
The “ists” of the Christian faith can be quite confusing for the uninitiated. The terms often begin with a specific meaning and then change over time as new meanings are grafted on. American writer, Francis Schaeffer, explains the origin of the word fundamentalist and describes its consequent change in meaning over time. He writes that in the 1920s:
……Bible-believing Christians, under the leadership of such scholars as J. Gresham Machen and Robert Dick Wilson, issued what they called The Fundamentals of the Faith. Dr. Machen and the other men never thought of making this an “ism.” They considered these things to be a true expression of the historic Christian faith and doctrine. They were the fundamental truths of the Christian faith-doctrine which was true to The Bible……
Soon, however, the word fundamentalist came into use. As used at first, it had nothing problematic in its use either in definition or in connotation.
As time passed, however, the term fundamentalist took on a connotation for many people which had no necessary relationship to its original meaning. It came to connote a form of pietism which shut Christian interest up to only a very limited view of spirituality. In this new connotation, many things having to do with the arts, culture, education, and social involvement were considered to be “unspiritual” and not a proper area of concern for the Christian. Spirituality had to do with a very narrow sphere of the Christian’s life, and all other things were considered to be suspect. Fundamentalism also, at times, became overly harsh and lacking in love, …..
Therefore, at a certain point in this country a new name was entered-evangelical. This was picked up largely from the British scene. In Britain during the twenties and thirties, evangelical largely meant what Machen and the others had stood for in this country-namely, Bible-believing Christianity as opposed to the inroads of various forms and degrees of liberal theology. By the mid-1940s the name evangelical had come into common use in the United States. It was especially used here with the connotation of being Bible-believing without shutting one’s self off from the full spectrum of life, and in trying to bring Christianity into effective contact with the current needs of society, government, and culture. It had a connotation of leading people to Christ as Savior, but then trying to be salt and light in the culture.(49)
In some senses both these terms have become so confused it could almost be argued they no longer have any real meaning. Schaeffer argues that many who would call themselves “evangelical” have abandoned the original evangelical stand of upholding the inerrancy and authority of The Bible, and the term can now mean a range of views concerning The Bible. Apart from fundamentalists and evangelicals there are also the literalists. Unfortunately, this term can also mean different things to different people. However, J. P. Lange states:
The literalist (so called) is not one who denies that figurative language, that symbols, are used in prophecy, nor does he deny that great spiritual truths are set forth therein; his position is, simply, that the prophecies are to be normally interpreted (i.e., according to the received laws of language) as any other utterances are interpreted – that which is manifestly figurative being so regarded.(50)
How one views The Bible has a large influence on how one interprets prophecy. Most futurists tend to be literalists and believe that the Great Tribulation will last seven literal years, a timeframe which has been calculated from verses in Daniel and Revelation (Dan 7:25-26, 9:24-27, 12:7, Rev 11, 12:5-6, 12:14, 13:5-7). This seven year period is understood to be the last seven years of “seventy sets of seven” (70 sevens of years or 70 weeks of years), or 490 years, which are introduced in Daniel 9:24. In Daniel 9:25 and 26, the angel Gabriel tells Daniel that the Anointed One, the Messiah, will be “cut off” after “seven sevens and sixty-two sevens” (a total of 69 x 7 or 483 years), beginning with a decree to rebuild Jerusalem.
Just such a decree was given in an edict by Artaxerxes to Nehemiah (see the book of Nehemiah for details of this episode). According to a number of eschatologists, this was the exact period of time from Artaxerxes’ edict to rebuild Jerusalem, to the time when the Lord Jesus Christ was crucified. As Sir Robert Anderson writes:
These seventy weeks represent seventy times seven prophetic years of 360 days, to be reckoned from the issuing of an edict for the rebuilding of the city – “the street and rampart,” of Jerusalem.
The edict in question was the decree issued by Artaxerxes Longitmanus in the twentieth year of his reign, authorizing Nehemiah to rebuild the fortifications of Jerusalem.
The date of Artaxerxes’s reign can be definitely ascertained – not from elaborate disquisitions by biblical commentators and prophetic writers, but by the united voice of secular historians and chronologers.
The statement of St. Luke is explicit and unequivocal, that our Lord’s public ministry began in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar. It is equally clear that it began shortly before the Passover, The date of it can thus be fixed as between August A.D. 28 and April A.D. 29. The Passover of the crucifixion therefore was in A.D. 32, when Christ was betrayed on the night of the Paschal Supper, and put to death on the day of the Paschal Feast.
If then the foregoing conclusions be well founded we should expect to find that the period intervening between the edict of Artaxerxes and the Passion was 483 prophetic years. And accuracy as absolute as the nature of the case permits is no more than men are here entitled to demand. There can be no loose reckoning in a Divine chronology; and if God has deigned to mark on human calendars the fulfillment of His purposes as foretold in prophecy, the strictest scrutiny shall fail to detect miscalculation or mistake.(51)
Those who accept this idea also believe that the last “week” of Daniel’s 70 weeks (the last set of seven years) is yet to be completed. This doctrine holds that after the Messiah was crucified, the 70 weeks were cut into by the Church Age, leaving the final, future seven-year period Gabriel introduced in Daniel 9:27 to be fulfilled. These yet to be completed seven years are believed by most futurists to be the coming tribulation period.
A large portion of those who believe Daniel’s 70th week is yet to happen also believe the Great Tribulation will begin after the Church Age, which they perceive as a hiatus that draws to a close when the church is raptured. For these believers the seven year tribulation period separates this first event, which is a secret Rapture (1Thes 4:15-17), when Jesus comes for His saints who meet Him in the air, from the Second Coming, when Jesus physically returns to Earth with His saints (Rev 19:14).
76 What is the Rapture?
In his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul told the early church :
We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet Him ahead of those who have died. For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. (1 Thes 4:15-17)
The Rapture is the “catching up” in the clouds Paul mentions here. The first difficulty we meet when looking at this passage is its timing in relation to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Although some rather confused teachings see this passage as referring to the resurrection of Christ and the saints who rose from their graves at that time (Mat 27:52-53), this idea can be easily dismissed as it is not logical. Paul is talking about a future event and the resurrection most certainly occurred before he wrote to the Thessalonians. Some preterists believe this passage merely refers to the death of individuals. They suggest that when believers leave their mortal bodies behind they put on immortality. In other word, they see this verse as telling us believers are translated, or changed at death and caught up to be with the Lord. There is a great deal of contorting the scriptures to make this understanding viable. However, the Greek word ἅμα, which means “together with“, cannot be ignored. The verse clearly states that the dead will rise first and the living will join them; at some future time they will all be together to meet the Lord in the air. These are not individual instances of a catching away, it is a group who together meet the Lord in the air..
This verse is very easy to understand when simply taken as it is written. Therefore, the great majority of Bible believing Christians look forward to the return of the Lord Jesus Christ in the future, at which time they believe He will catch away the saints from the Earth. The main area of discussion surrounds the timing of the Rapture, and there are three main views concerning the point at which the saints are raptured in the unfolding of end-time events.
77 Three Views of the Rapture
The three main approaches to the Rapture are:
• The Pre-tribulation Rapture, which has the catching away happening sometime prior to the beginning of the seven year Great Tribulation period. In this scenario it is most often accepted that the seven year period begins with the signing of a peace pact between Israel and the antichrist.
• The Mid-tribulation Rapture, which holds that the catching away occurs three and a half years into the seven year period. This position is closely linked to the pre-wrath Rapture. Those who hold this position usually believe the seven year period is the tribulation, but that the Great Tribulation begins half way through and lasts for the final 3 ½ years.
• The Post-tribulation Rapture, which sees the catching away happening at the end of (or very shortly after) the Great Tribulation. This position holds that the Rapture is inextricably linked to the resurrection of the righteous dead and the Second Coming of Christ.
78 Pre-tribulation Rapture
Those who believe the church will be raptured, or taken out of the Earth before the Great Tribulation, which they understand as the penultimate outpouring of God’s wrath upon sin, cite the scripture:
….. wait for his Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivereth us from the wrath to come. (1Th 1:10)
Another scripture quoted by pre-tribulationists is:
Because you have obeyed my command to endure, I will keep you safe during the time of testing which is coming to the whole world to test those living on Earth. (Rev 3:10)
In these verses believers are assured Jesus will keep them safe “during the time of testing.”
Those who subscribe to this understanding of prophecy also refer to the examples of Lot and Noah and their respective families, pointing out that these godly people were removed from the devastation during the past events of God’s judgement on the Earth. In both these judgments, the people of God were taken out and kept safe from the catastrophic circumstances surrounding the Great Flood and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
79 Mid-tribulation Rapture
Those who subscribe to the mid-tribulation rapture emphasise the sharp division in time mentioned in the major eschatological passages concerning the 7 years of tribulation. The mid-tribulation view divides the Great Tribulation into two periods of 1260 days each (from Daniel 9:27 and Daniel 12:7) and sees the Rapture of the church occurring at the mid-point between these two halves. They describe the first half of the seven year tribulation period as the wrath of man, and the last half as the wrath of God, or the Great Tribulation. This position holds that the church will go through the first half, even though it has no part in the last half of the 70th week.
Mid-tribulationists view the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11:15 and the last trumpet of 1 Corinthians 15:52 and 1 Thessalonians 4:16 as the same thing. To resolve the problems this creates for a pre-tribulation view they place the Rapture in Revelation 14, after the statue (Rev 13:14) and mark of the beast (Rev 13:16). Many writers have examined the trumpets mentioned throughout The Bible and it appears there is enough material on the subject to fill a book. Those who disagree with the mid-tribulation view claim the last trumpet (1 Cor 15:52) and the seventh trumpet (Rev 11:15) are definitely different trumpets that are sounded at different times and point to OT practices to support these claims (see and also see), thus they see no need for a mid-point rapture.
The mid-tribulation view is similar to the pre-wrath view. In this view the Rapture of the saints is placed at some time after the opening of the sixth seal (Rev 6:12) and before the return of Christ with the saints (Rev 19:11-16). According to this view the saints are raptured just before the wrath of God is poured out after the sixth seal.
80 Post-tribulation Rapture
The post-tribulation view sees a single Second Coming of Christ and dismissed the idea of an earlier Rapture. According to this view the church will be kept by God’s grace while it continues on Earth throughout all of Daniel’s seventieth week (the Great Tribulation). After this the saints will be given their glorified bodies in order to meet Christ as He comes to Earth to defeat the antichrist at Armageddon and establish His millennial reign in Jerusalem. They see no need for an interval between Christ coming for and with His Bride and believe the church will be persecuted by the antichrist, but that believers will be protected from God’s wrath as they are kept from the hour of trial mentioned in Revelation 3:10.
Those who subscribe to this view look to the teachings of Jesus in the gospel of John concerning the “last day” (John 6:39, 40, 44) and insist the rapture cannot be separated from the resurrection of the righteous dead, which according to these verses must be on the “last day.” Opponents of this view, point out that the Greek word used in last “day” can mean last “period of time” and may not necessarily mean a literal 24 hour day in every situation (Rom 2:5; Rev 6:17). They state that the meaning must be determined by context and suggest that just as we might say “in his day” and not mean one literal 24 hour period, Jesus may also be referring to a particular period of time at the end of Earth history.
81 How do the two Testaments relate?
The relationship between the Old and New Testaments, which is another area of debate when attempting to understand end times prophecy, has been discussed since the beginning of the Church Age. Augustine (354-430 AD) believed that, “In the Old Testament the New is concealed; in the New Testament the Old is revealed.”
Indeed, in retrospect, we do find the OT scriptures point towards the most important event in history, the incarnation of God on Earth, while the NT reveals the mystery of the ages. In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul explains:
….. the wisdom we speak of is the mystery of God—His plan that was previously hidden, even though He made it for our ultimate glory before the world began. But the rulers of this world have not understood it; if they had, they would not have crucified our glorious Lord. That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love Him.” But it was to us that God revealed these things by His Spirit. For His Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets. No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit. And we have received God’s Spirit (not the world’s spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us. (1 Corinthians 2:7-12)
God, in His wisdom, kept His plan to become the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of humanity veiled throughout the OT, but now that it has been revealed through His Son, His Spirit and His Word, we can detect allusions to His plan all the way through the OT. This mystery is explained in the NT. Paul reveals:
Without question, this is the great mystery of our faith: Christ was revealed in a human body and vindicated by the Spirit. He was seen by angels and announced to the nations. He was believed in throughout the world and taken to heaven in glory. (1 Timothy 3:16)
…. the stewardship from God was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Col 1:25-27)
In his letters to the early church Paul explains that the mystery of Christ’s universal gifts of salvation and eternal life through His indwelling Spirit had been kept secret until after Jesus was crucified, so that the evil powers worked in ignorance to bring about His death. Paul elucidated the mystery to the Corinthians (above), while to the Ephesians he wrote:
…to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. (Eph 3:9-10)
The mystery of the ages has now been revealed, not only to the world, but also to the principalities and powers in heavenly places. God has chosen to do this through those who are called out and consequently commit their lives in service to the Lord Jesus Christ. The church has been given the task of sharing this wondrous mystery with the world and the heavenly rulers and authorities.
Jesus’ incarnation was the turning point in world history. After His resurrection God fully revealed His great plan for humanity. Since then the Holy Spirit has been working to enable us to comprehend our desperate need for both repentance and an acceptance of God’s rightful rule in our lives. What was once a vague understanding of the holiness, mercy and loving-kindness of God was totally revealed when God came to Earth.
The OT has many references to the Messiah, but it was only as Jesus lived His life amongst His disciples and explained the hidden message to them that they fully understood His role in the unfolding of God’s great plan. Luke records:
Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself……..
They said to each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as He talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:27, 32)
Most Christians believe there is a need for harmony between the two testaments, but one group that has worked to create an overall, integrated picture has captured an immense following, particularly in the American churches, where their teachings were made popular through the Scofield and Ryrie Bibles. During the past century many futurists, who believe in a pre-tribulation Rapture, have embraced this approach (or aspects of this approach) and it is now prevalent amongst evangelicals throughout the world. This view is commonly referred to as Dispensationalism.
Dispensationalism looks at The Bible as a series of seven chronologically successive periods or dispensations in history, during which God relates to humanity in a variety of ways. At the core of its teachings this form of futurism has a particular understanding of the relationship between the Old and New Testaments and it sees Israel as having a distinctive prophetic future as a nation.
While many traditional denominations teach that the Christian church has inherited all the promises made to Israel throughout the OT (this is referred to as Replacement Theology by dispensationalists and supersessionism by others), dispensationalism teaches a rigid distinction between prophecies concerning Israel and those concerning the church. According to this view, the church dispensation (where man’s relationship with God is through grace (Acts 13:43; Romans 3:24; Eph 1:7; Col 1:5-6; 2 Thes 2:16; 2 Tim 1:9-10; Titus 2:11; 3:7) is seen as having interrupted God’s dealings with the Jews, causing a lengthy pause in the dispensation where humanity’s relationship with God was through the law given to Moses (Romans 6:14-15; Gal 2:21; 4:5).
Dispensationalism teaches that the dispensation under grace began at Pentecost with the beginning of the church (although there is some debate about the specific timing) (see) and has endured for almost 2000 years. It asserts that once the dispensation under grace ends with the Rapture, the Great Tribulation (Daniel’s seventieth week) will begin and restart the dispensation under law, when God will turn His attention back to Israel as the major focus of His work throughout the seven year tribulation period.
According to this view the Great Tribulation will culminate in the Second Coming of Christ with His retinue of angels and raptured saints and the Lord Jesus Christ will then usher in the kingdom dispensation when He begins His millennial reign from Jerusalem (see). Some dispensationalists believe the law, temple, feasts and sacrifices will be reintroduced during the Millennium, even though the Jews will recognise Jesus as the Messiah who reigns from the Throne of David.
One argument for the idea of the sacrifices continuing throughout the Millennium suggests they will serve as a reminder of the enormous cost to the Father in bringing about the reign of His Son on Earth. This reasoning is sound. It may well be the case that some sort of commemorative sacrifice will be made. As there is a war soon after Jesus’ thousand year reign comes to an end (Rev 20:8), and it is not until after the new heavens and new earth are created that death is finally eliminated (Rev 21:4), this is entirely possible.
Dispensationalism emphasises the importance of the church having a constant expectation of Christ’s return and maintains that if Christians are waiting for the Great Tribulation or the antichrist they have their eyes on Satan’s activities rather than on the imminent return of Jesus. It teaches that the next great event in Bible history for the church is the return of Christ for the saints, after which God will withdraw the Restrainer (the Holy Spirit) from the world (2 Thess 2:7). They believe that following the Rapture and the Great Tribulation the Millennium will begin and this will be the time when God finally completes all the unfulfilled prophecies given to the Jews throughout the OT.
Dispensationalists claim the reference to John being caught up to heaven in Revelation 4:1 is a representation of the church being raptured prior to any of the tribulation events. Hence the tribulation will be a time when God turns His attention on Earth, back to ethnic Israel. They speak of Daniel’s “time clock” beginning to tick once again, at the commencement of the Great Tribulation, which is Daniel’s 70th week, begins. Thus, Dispensationalism holds that throughout the OT, God worked through the Jewish people, who were given the law and specific guidelines and promises, and then, after Pentecost, God suspended His work through the Jewish nation during the Church Age, but it will recommence after the church is raptured.
The fact that Israel has now been re-established as a nation, 1900 years after its destruction by Rome, is seen as a major sign of the times by this school of futurism. Some believe that during Daniel’s 70th week (Dan 9:24), which is not only the Great Tribulation, but also the time of troubles alluded to throughout the OT, the Jews will finally recognise Jesus as their long awaited Messiah and all Israel will be saved (Romans 11:26).
To summarise, Dispensationalism anticipates:
• The Rapture – when the church dispensation of grace comes to an end as the church is removed from the Earth (John 14:1-3, 1 Thes 4:15-18, Titus 2:12-13).
• The Great Tribulation – when the Jews are once again the focus of God’s work and Daniel’s 70th week is activated under the dispensation of law (Jer 30:7, Dan 9:24-27, Mat 24:21-25, Rev 6-18).
• The Second Coming – when Jesus returns with the saints after the Great Tribulation (Mat 24:27-31, Rev 1:7, 19:11-16).
• The Millennial Kingdom – when Jesus reigns on Earth with the saints during the kingdom dispensation (Zech 8:20-23, 14:16, Rev 20:1-6).
• The Future Eternal State in the new heaven and new Earth (John 10:27-29, Rev 21and 22).
Opponents of Dispensationalism insist God has finished His work amongst the Jewish people. They believe that God sees Jesus as the fulfilment of Israel’s promises and some go so far as to claim that the time of Jacob’s trouble (Jer 30:7), which they believe began with the destruction of the temple in 70AD, is both the tribulation Jesus referred to and the direct result of the Jews’ role in the crucifixion of Jesus. They insist the church has completely superseded Israel and that God’s purpose for the Jews has been finalised. Therefore, they claim, He has completely abandoned the nation He created as “His people” and has created a new people, the church. They use a number of scriptures to support their ideas, these include:
I know that ye are Abraham’s seed; but ye seek to kill me, because my word hath no place in you. I speak that which I have seen with my Father: and ye do that which ye have seen with your father.” They answered and said unto him, “Abraham is our father”. Jesus saith unto them, “If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham.” (John 8:37-39)
God made promises concerning the seed of Abraham throughout the OT (Gen 12:7, 13:15-16, 15:18, 16:10 etc), but Paul points out in his letter to the Galatians that the word seed is singular, not plural, and actually refers to Jesus. Paul explained this idea to the Galatian church:
God gave the promises to Abraham and his child. And notice that the Scripture doesn’t say “to his children,” as if it meant many descendants. Rather, it says “to His child”—and that, of course, means Christ. (Gal 3:16)
Jesus told the Jewish leaders that Abraham’s spiritual children would recognise Him and inherit the promises. He made it clear that the promises were not limited to the nation of Israel. Rather, the promises were for all people and contingent upon Him and His teachings. As John records:
I tell you the truth, anyone who obeys My teaching will never die!” (John 8:51)
The church has an ongoing, lively debate concerning many aspects of eschatology and the place of Israel in the last days is one that influences our age and culture dramatically. Christian Zionism shapes many decisions made by people in power. Whether we agree or disagree with this movement, God is sovereign and His plan will not be thwarted. We must all seek to find His Way through His Word. Understandably, the book with the most challenges is the Revelation. Our Father has always encouraged His people to study and meditate on His Word (Joshua 1:8; Psalm 1:2; 119:148; 1 Tim 4:13-16; Hebrews 5:12; 1 Peter 2:2) and the literary style of this final book of The Bible makes this imperative.
83 When was The Revelation written?
There is some debate surrounding the date the book of Revelation was written. Our understanding of biblical prophecy is greatly influenced by when we believe the book was written. There are two conflicting schools of thought here, these can be divided into those who hold to an early date and those supporting a later date. Most traditional sources lean towards the later date, suggesting the book was written during the reign of the emperor Domitian (81-96 CE), and there is much evidence to confirm this. However, many argue for an earlier date, and cite the fact that the Temple is mentioned in Revelation 11 to support their ideas. As the temple was destroyed in 70AD they claim this is proof for the earlier date. As Dr Patrick Zukeran states:
Crucial to the preterist view is the date of Revelation. Since it is a prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem, preterists hold to a pre-AD 70 date of writing. According to this view, John was writing specifically to the church of his day and had only its situation in mind. This letter was written to encourage the saints to persevere under the persecution of the Roman Empire.(see)
The arguments for dates after 70AD, are based on the writings of the early church fathers and information within the scriptures themselves. Dr Zukeran points out:
The church of Smyrna did not exist during Paul’s ministry (60-64 A. D.) as recorded by Polycarp, the first bishop of the city. Laodecia (Rev. 3:14-22) is rebuked for being wealthy and lukewarm. However, in his letter to the Colossians, Paul commends the church three times (2:2, 4:13, 16). It would likely take more than three years for the church to decline to the point that chapter 3 would state there to be no commendable aspect about it. Also, an Earthquake in 61 A. D. left the city in ruins for many years. Thus, it is unlikely that in a ruined condition John would describe them as rich (see).
It seems discussions on the end times will inevitably continue as believers prayerfully search for harmony within the prophetic scriptures, while seeking to coordinate them with world history. People everywhere have an interest in predictions of the future – horoscopes, weather and economic forecasts are very popular amongst people all over the world. Just as unbelievers listen to predictions with the hope of preparing themselves for what is to come, Christians need to study the Word of God in preparation for the coming last days. These predictions are based on revelation from the Creator and deserve our best efforts in understanding His message to us.
84 The Millennium
A time of global peace and prosperity is anticipated in numerous passages throughout scripture. In the OT Isaiah describes such a time:
In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together…. Nothing will hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain, for as the waters fill the sea, so the Earth will be filled with people who know the LORD. In that day the heir to David’s throne will be a banner of salvation to all the world. The nations will rally to Him, and the land where He lives will be a glorious place. (Isa 11:6-10)
But in the latter days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the LORD’S house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and peoples shall flow unto it. And many nations shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. and he shall judge between many peoples, and shall reprove strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the LORD of hosts hath spoken it. (Mic 4:1-4)
A number of OT scriptures refer to this time of peace as coinciding with the restoration of the Throne of David. At the annunciation Jesus was declared by the angel Gabriel to be the promised King who would sit on that throne. Gabriel informed Mary:
And behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bring forth a Son and call His name Jesus. He will be mighty, and will be called the Son of the Most High: and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David: and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of His kingdom there will be no end. (Luke 1:31-33)
In the light of this announcement many OT scriptures gain new meaning. In Isaiah we find that the “strong love that the LORD All-Powerful has for his people will make this happen”. Isaiah is referring to a time of “peace without end” when a king sits on David’s throne:
This will happen when the special child is born. God will give us a son who will be responsible for leading the people. His name will be “Wonderful Counsellor, Powerful God, Father who Lives Forever, Prince of Peace.” His power will continue to grow, and there will be peace without end. This will establish him as the king sitting on David’s throne and ruling his kingdom. He will rule with goodness and justice forever and ever. The strong love that the LORD All-Powerful has for his people will make this happen! (Isa 9:6-7)
Following the Great Tribulation the book of Revelation refers to a time when Satan is bound and Jesus reigns on the Earth with the saints (Rev 20:1-6). This sounds very much like the time Isaiah described, when goodness and justice came from the king sitting on David’s throne. Although some see this time as finding it’s fulfilment in the new creation, many Christians refer to the episode, which is detailed in chapter 20 of the Revelation, as the Millennium. This is because it describes a period of a thousand years, which many believe to be the anticipated time of peace on Earth mentioned throughout scripture. John’s description of this time comes near the end of his record:
He seized the dragon—that old serpent, who is the devil, Satan—and bound him in chains for a thousand years. The angel threw him into the bottomless pit, which he then shut and locked so Satan could not deceive the nations anymore until the thousand years were finished. Afterward he must be released for a little while. Then I saw thrones, and the people sitting on them had been given the authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony about Jesus and for proclaiming the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his statue, nor accepted his mark on their forehead or their hands. They all came to life again, and they reigned with Christ for a thousand years. This is the first resurrection. (The rest of the dead did not come back to life until the thousand years had ended.) Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. For them the second death holds no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him a thousand years. When the thousand years come to an end, Satan will be let out of his prison. (Rev 20:2-7)
A plain reading of this Revelation passage tells us the Millennium is the penultimate age when Christ will reign for a thousand years on Earth before the Day of Judgment. This will be a time when Satan is prevented from leading humanity into sin. However, as Revelation is clearly a book filled with symbolism, attitudes to the Millennium are once again divided. On one hand we find those who view the thousand years as needing a literal interpretation, while on the other hand we find those who choose to see the book as allegorical, and therefore use an interpretive approach. Generally, views on the Millennium fall into 3 broad categories:
• Premillennialism is the belief that Jesus will literally and physically return to the Earth at His Second Coming, after which He will reign on the Earth for a thousand years. There are two major forms of premillennialism.
1. Dispensational – which holds to the pre-tribulation rapture view and attributes a special status to national Israel during the Great Tribulation and the Millennium. Proponents of this view reject the claim that this is a new theory, claiming it re-emerged during the 19th century after being overwhelmed by alternative teachings early in church history.
2. Historic – sees itself as the historical view of premillennialism, as opposed to the pre-tribulational view, which they insist is a new theory. This view includes a post-tribulation rapture position and emphasises there should be no distinction between the church and Israel during the Great Tribulation and Millennium.
• Postmillennialism holds that Jesus’ Second Coming occurs after His millennial reign, which some believe to be more a Golden Age than a literal thousand year period. Those who accept this view look forward to a Christianised world and a Great Christian Revival before the last days. Many who hold this view understand the Great Tribulation as having occurred during the time of the Roman Empire or roughly between 65 and 313 AD. This position generally takes an allegorical approach to the interpretation of the book of Revelation.
• Amillennialism rejects the theory that Jesus will have a literal thousand-year long, physical reign on the Earth. This view is said to have been promoted by Augustine and is the dominant position of Reformers. Their beliefs are summarised by Prof. David J. Engelsma who writes:
.. “amillennialism teaches the church ….. to expect increasing lawlessness in the world, apostasy from the truth in the churches, the establishment of the kingdom of Antichrist over the entire world, and great tribulation for all those who fear God and keep His commandments. To such a world, thus fully developed in sin, will Christ return.” (52)
85 The Throne of David and the sacrifices
Another area of vigorous discussion surrounding the Millennium concerns where the Throne of David is situated during Christ’s thousand year reigns. Some claim the throne will be situated in the earthly Jerusalem, while others insist Christ is already seated and ruling from the Throne of David in heaven.
As mentioned earlier, some also claim the Jews will be carrying on their sacrifices in the Third Temple during the Millennium. This idea is based on a passage in Jeremiah, which is generally accepted as referring to the Messiah.
In those days, and at that time, will I cause a Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David; and he shall execute judgment and righteousness in the land. In those days shall Judah be saved, and Jerusalem shall dwell safely: and this is the name whereby she shall be called, The LORD is our righteousness. For thus saith the LORD: David shall never want a man to sit upon the throne of the house of Israel; neither shall the priests the Levites want a man before me to offer burnt offerings, and to burn oblations, and to do sacrifice continually. (Jer 33:15-18)
Those who reject the notion of sacrifices during the Millennium remind us the Levitical priesthood was abolished long ago when Christ’s priesthood succeeded it. They point to the book of Hebrews, which outlines the special status of the priesthood of Jesus and informs us that Christ is a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews chapters 5-7). These people also insist there is now no need for the OT sacrifices to be performed, as they were but a shadow of the ultimate sacrifice Christ made on the cross. They declare Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice here on Earth, and after rising and ascending to heaven, continues to make intercession in the presence of God, on behalf of the redeemed (Rom 8:34). This view proclaims the Lord Jesus will continue to do this always and therefore a man shall not be wanting before the Lord:
….to offer burnt offerings, and to kindle meat offerings, and to do sacrifice continually…
86 Many areas of agreement
From the preceding discussion it would appear there are numerous areas of disagreement amongst believers concerning the end times; however, there are many areas on which biblical Christians agree. As Dr Zukeran states:
All views believe that God is sovereign and in charge of all that occurs in history and its ultimate conclusion. Except for full preterism and some forms of idealism, all believe in the physical Second Coming of Christ. All views believe in the resurrection from the dead. All believe there will be a future judgment. All believe in an eternal state in which believers will be with God, and unbelievers will be separated from Him. All agree upon the importance of the study of prophecy and its edification for the body of Christ (see).
87 A Personal Perspective
After many years of study, thought and prayer I am inclined to accept the futurist, pre-tribulational, premillennial approach to end times prophecy, and I feel certain the Jews will play a major role in the Great Tribulation. Some might label this progressive dispensationalism, but I have not really consciously chosen a school of thought, I have just formed a few opinions on what might happen after many years of hearing various views, looking at history and prayerfully reading scripture. As I have never been an official member of an organised church I have not had one particular eschatological view given to me for any great length of time, and I have always read widely and had friends from various backgrounds, so perhaps my views are rather eclectic.
I also believe that God does not force events, as He knows the end from the beginning. He knows what individuals will choose to do and how world history will play out and He works all things together for the ultimate good of believers (Romans 8:28). This to me is true sovereignty. God is far greater than time and space but He is endlessly active within both dimensions. He set His creation in motion, and His ceaseless activities in the world He created are all expressions of His love and holiness. He takes the evil that humankind creates and weaves it into a bigger picture that will be greater by far than any we could ever dream up or even comprehend with our present, finite minds (1 Cor 13:9-12). Our Creator and Father is not a puppet master, pulling strings to make His creatures jump, He has given us true free will – we can choose to perish. However, those who choose His Way will benefit from His Spirit, active day and night in their lives, and they will be part of His preparations for the Eternal Kingdom.
88 John’s vision concerning the history of the world
I see the Revelation as a book that bridges the gap between heaven and Earth. After an assessment of the state of 7 specific churches on Earth (chapters 2 and 3), John was caught up into another dimension – heaven – to see things there that relate to the end of the history of this world. After seeing these things from a heavenly perspective, John needed to explain them in earthly terms, and consequently he used figurative language; but this does not mean we must take the whole book as an allegory. Just like the book of Genesis, the Revelation is about humanity’s history; as the complementary bookend, it is the book that completes the story of God’s dealings with the people He created on Earth.
If we determine Revelation must be viewed as allegory, we then have licence to impose our individual interpretations on the text, making it something quite different for each individual. However, the plain reading approach would view the figurative terminology as an effective tool for conveying information to the reader, which was gained from a heavenly perspective, even though it relates to events that must literally come to pass on Earth in human history.
One of the main reasons I would say I am a futurist and believe I can use a plain reading approach to this book, is because John, when writing the Revelation, stated:
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto Him, to shew unto His servants things which must shortly come to pass; (Rev 1:1a)
From this verse it would appear that John expected the things the Lord Jesus revealed to him would actually happen in history, in other words, he did not see them as symbolic. Consequently, I am not convinced by the arguments for Idealism, nor can I accept that the Revelation is purely allegorical.
During the days when I was interested in the Gnostic writings and viewed them as equal to The Bible, I used an allegorical approach to all “spiritual books.” My understanding was that The Bible held deep, spiritual truths and needed to be understood in a “spiritual” way rather than seeking any earthly or “worldly” understanding of the scriptures. It was not important to me whether the historical portions of The Bible were true or not, it didn’t matter, to me spiritual books were about spiritual matters, and ultimately these matters had little to do with our physical existence or world history. All “spiritual books” held deep secrets that would be revealed to the enlightened ones, those who sought out the deeper meanings and esoteric knowledge within their pages.
Idealism also rejects what its adherents call a carnal fulfilment of prophesy and an earthly or worldly kingdom of God. This approach sees the types and shadows of prophecy as relating only to “spiritual” truths. However, Jesus came to Earth and lived the life of a physical person, died a physical death and rose with a body that, despite its transformation, was still a physical body – these facts have changed my opinion on what being “spiritual” is. The Bible is God’s message to humankind; He created us as physical beings who can have a relationship with our spiritual Father. In The Bible the spiritual aspect of our being is always inextricably tied to our physical existence.
There is no scriptural support for the idea that we had a spiritual existence before we had physical bodies (Heb 9:27), and after Adam and Eve sinned and were cast out of the Garden of Eden, we no longer had an assured means of prolonging our existence beyond our physical lifetimes (Gen 3:22; Heb 10:27). To insist we see the Earth, our physical bodies and human history as some sort of transient “physical” phase, is to ignore the promise of the new heaven and the new Earth and the resurrection of our bodies. Insisting that prophecy must be understood as simply a glimpse into heavenly or “spiritual” reality is to deny the fact that God has been working in and through human history to bring His physical creation to its time of restoration (Matthew 17:11; Acts 3:21) (the Millennium (Rev 20:1-7)) and renewal (the new heavens and Earth (Rev 21:1)).
After years of adhering to Christ Consciousness as the way (an approach I now understand to be far from the truth of The Bible), I view Idealism, which uses a similar approach to the interpretation of large portions of scripture, as extremely susceptible to human misinterpretation and misrepresentation. To avoid imposing unnecessary, subjective interpretations on the text (eisegesis), it seems reasonable to approach the Revelation using a straightforward, plain reading approach, because to a certain extent, this method can be employed when reading prophecy.
My plain reading of prophecy brings me to the conclusion that the Revelation is definitely about specific events and is not, as Idealism claims, a symbolic representation of the ongoing, titanic struggle throughout the ages of God against Satan and good against evil. The spiritualising of large portions of scripture is too close to my past New Age approach to The Bible for me to place much confidence in its accuracy.
A plain reading approach understands that metaphors are metaphors, poetry is poetry, parables are parables, prophecy is prophecy and history is history. Of course idealists do not spiritualise everything, but they would contend that their approach to prophecy avoids the problem of attempting to harmonize passages of scripture with events in history, which means the book of Revelation is applicable and relevant to all periods of church history. I can see why these points might carry weight, but they do not convince me that an allegorical approach is completely necessary, when one can simply read what the scripture says and take it at face value. As Dr D. L. Cooper writes:
When the plain sense of scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths, indicate clearly otherwise (see).
Proponents of Idealism also view specific times as primarily symbolic. They remind us that ancient peoples often used a more symbolic language when they mentioned time spans. A thousand years need not be a thousand years of historical time, but rather a reference to a long period of time. To insist that scripture must always be viewed through some sort of symbolic code takes away from the adequacy of the Word of God. If there is a need for “secret” or extra knowledge of this symbolic code to understand The Bible it becomes an elitist book, which can only be understood by the more “enlightened” or informed – those of the Inner Circle. The author of the Word knew that it was going to be read by millions of people over thousands of years, He would therefore ensure that it could be understood in a straightforward way by those who did not have access to any earlier hidden knowledge.
The scriptures themselves teach us that The Bible is a book that must be read through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It is not human wisdom that gives us the ability to understand God’s message to us through His Word, it is the Holy Spirit who reveals God’s Truth to us through its pages. As Paul explained to the Corinthians:
Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1Corinthians 2:12-14)
If we insist all references to periods of time must be seen as simply symbols for some deeper meaning (even though there may actually be another layer of meaning present), we remove the possibility of a straightforward reading and turn The Bible into a book for the initiated or more educated – those with gnosis – or superior knowledge. In our modern or postmodern world we could also view the scriptures as needing to be approached using textural criticism and then go on to talk about things like dynamic and formal equivalence, or logos, pathos and ethos; or we can understand that The Bible was produced entirely through, and must be interpreted to us by, the Holy Spirit. As Peter reminds us:
Above all else, however, remember that none of us can explain by ourselves a prophecy in the Scriptures. For no prophetic message ever came just from the human will, but people were under the control of the Holy Spirit as they spoke the message that came from God. (2 Peter 1:20-21)
Of course when using the historical-grammatical method of interpretation we benefit from an awareness of the historical context of the writing, as well as a basic grasp of grammar, as language usage and customs change over time. It is also helpful to understand that different translations of The Bible emphasise different points of view, so it is useful to have access to the Hebrew and Greek texts if and whenever possible. However, when determining whether we need to view the thousand years as anything other than a thousand years, context is helpful. CMI writer Lita Cosner points out:
There are also symbolic numbers in The Bible. Many recognize that the majority of the numbers in Revelation have symbolic meaning (as is typical in apocalyptic writing), and numbers such as 7 and 12 in Scripture often have symbolism behind them – the former representing completeness since Creation Week was 7 days (6 days of creation plus 1 day of rest) and the latter the twelve tribes of Israel, or sometimes in the New Testament the twelve apostles. But if a number has a special significance, that will be plain from the context – sometimes 7 is just 7 (see).
If we decide the Revelation can only be seen as one long allegory, then we would naturally accept that symbolism and symbolic numbers are used exclusively throughout the entire book. However, if we approach the book using a plain reading approach and understand that it is full of symbolism, but that the basic structure and references to people and events can still be viewed as prophecy, then we see the message God is communicating in an entirely different light. Then we can accept that if God wanted John to say Jesus will reign for a very long period of time, John would have written just that, but instead He mentioned a thousand year reign no less than six times in Revelation 20.
The idealist position can also lead to arbitrary interpretations that turn prophecy and biblical history into a muddle of pointless, spiritualized generalizations. God gave us the scriptures as a solid foundation, but the idealist view enables the reader to dismiss the text as purely symbolic.
As Merrill Tenney states:
The idealist view . . . assumes a “spiritual” interpretation, and allows no concrete significance whatever to figures that it employs. According to this viewpoint they are not merely symbolic of events and persons, as the historicist view contends; they are only abstract symbols of good and evil. They may be attached to any time or place, but like the characters of Pilgrim’s Progress, represent qualities or trends. In interpretation, the Apocalypse may thus mean anything or nothing according to the whim of the interpreter.(53)
Constantly searching for hidden meanings and allegorical messages in scripture challenges the doctrine of the perspicuity of scripture; scripture was written to be intelligible to its contemporary audience (see). Two thousand years later we have the same expectations, having rejected the Gnostic approach to scripture, I now approach The Bible as a book that is understood in the same way we understand other texts. The meaning is not hidden for only the initiated to uncover, it is God’s straightforward revelation for all who are open to the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
There are many scriptures that appear to indicate a “soon” Second Coming of Christ. By seeing prophecy fulfilled shortly after the ascension of Christ, preterism seeks to deal with verses such as:
But the end of all things has drawn near. Therefore be of sound mind, and be sensible to prayers. (1 Peter 4:7)
Perhaps another way to look at this verse would be to see the Lord Jesus Christ as “the end of all things” (Rev 1:8,11; 21:6; 22:13) and accept that He has indeed drawn near during His incarnation and even now by His Holy Spirit. Or alternatively, that the end of the present creation is inexorably approaching. All that was needed for God to complete His plan for humanity’s redemption had been accomplished, the end was now, inevitably, just ahead.
The concept of the Revelation needing to be fulfilled soon after it was recorded appears to be the basic reason people choose this school of thought. To make the rest of the prophetic scriptures fit this idea, a great deal of allegorising is then needed.
Peter understood God’s big picture: God had created the universe and Jewish genealogies demonstrated that the history of humankind could be traced back to the beginning of time. In his second epistle Peter (2 Peter 3:10-13) revealed God would definitely bring this present creation to an end, thus the creation had a beginning and it will have an end. Some of the Greek philosophers of Peter’s day insisted that the world would continue for many thousands of ages (see), but Peter was reminding his readers that the end was indeed approaching.
Another verse favoured by preterists is:
I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass from the scene until all these things take place. (Matthew 24:34)
As this verse is preceded by a list of events that will herald the end times, the generation that will not pass away could quite feasibly be the one that will exist when the signs of the end times begin, thus indicating that the chaos of the very last of days will not be a prolonged, drawn out time of tribulation.
The beginning of the Revelation also has a number of verses that must be considered before dismissing the idea that this book was primarily addressed to the early church. The Modern King James version begins the Revelation with:
A Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to Him to declare to His servants things which must shortly come to pass… (Rev 1:1a)
However, another translation of this passage could be:
A Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to Him to show to His servants things which must occur quickly… (Rev 1:1a)
In the first version the Greek word τάχος (tachos), has been translated as “shortly” and thus indicates the events will happen soon; but this word can also mean “quickly.” Therefore, this passage could be seen as an assurance that the events the Lord went on to outline in the Revelation would happen quickly; once again we can reasonably predict the Great Tribulation will not be a long, drawn out affair.
However, John goes on to write:
Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. (Rev 1:3)
While the Lord intends the church to live with the reality of the imminence of His return, there is a tension created throughout scripture, and verses such as these represent just one side of the dialectic. Although every Christian throughout the Church Age has eagerly anticipated the imminent return of their blessed Lord, they have also been aware of other scriptures which must be harmonised with verses such as those above.
The Great Commission (Mat 28:19-20; Luke 24:46-49; Acts 1:7-8) creates the ongoing tension. As believers pursue the task set before them of reaching out to a lost world (which will, without doubt, take a great deal of time), they eagerly anticipate the Lord’s imminent return. Jesus told His followers to go into all the nations and preach the gospel. This is not something anyone in 1st century Israel would have seen as a task that could be accomplished quickly. Therefore, throughout history, the body of Christ has continued to work, reaching out to all people, everywhere, with the Truth of the gospel (that by all means we might save some (1 Cor 9:22)); while living in constant anticipation of the return of the Lord and the end of this age (Mat 22:42-51).
I can only praise God that He has been patient with us all (both concerned Christians striving to share the gospel and those yet to understand God’s Truth) and His “soon” has been extended to almost 2000 years, thus enabling millions more believers to be granted a part in His Eternal Kingdom. Like so many of my brothers and sisters in Christ, even though I hope He will continue to be patient, so that many more might hear and respond before He calls an end to pain, suffering and death forever, I long for His appearing (2 Tim 4:8).
My main problem with the preterist view is that it appears to ignore Jesus’ words concerning the Great Tribulation. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus says:
For there will be greater anguish than at any time since the world began. And it will never be so great again. (Matthew 24:21)
If, as the preterists believe, the Great Tribulation took place during the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, and the Olivet Discourse and Revelation were specifically directed at the Jews, the holocaust could not have taken place. The vicious, drawn out, satanic attack on the Jewish people by Hitler and his servile subordinates was surely equal to the terrifying times Titus oversaw when he destroyed the temple. This 20th century anguish must surely have been equal to, if not worse than, the 1st century anguish.
From my perspective the preterist view lightly dismisses God’s promises to the Jews. preterists see the Jews as the true enemies of Jesus and believe their overthrow by the Roman army was God’s final judgment and rejection of His chosen people. In its most extreme form, preterism tends towards anti-Semitism. The Jews have suffered throughout the ages at the hands of so called Christian people who, believing God had transferred His promises to the church, took it upon themselves to inflict great harm on any Jewish person unfortunate enough to come under their power. Therefore I reject the preterist approach as I am not inclined towards a method of interpretation that would in any way contribute to this form of discrimination.
If we turn to the historicist view we see its adherents displaying a tendency to interpret the text through the context of their own period, with many viewing the climax of the Revelation as happening in their own generation. This has led to a wide and varied range of interpretations, which appear to be more dependent on world history than scriptural integrity.
There can be no doubt that some of the historicist interpretations of prophecy are very interesting, extremely detailed and well researched and documented. However, the extreme nature of the events recorded in the Revelation will surely prove to be far more intense than any of the panorama of historical events that have occurred in the last 20 centuries, which historicists have tied to the Revelation.
Adherents of this school of thought also use extensive symbolism. A historicist interpretation of the following verse illustrates this point. John wrote:
The first angel blew his trumpet, and there followed hail and fire, mixed with blood, and these were thrown upon the Earth. And a third of the Earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up. (Rev 8:7)
One historicist interpretation of this verse claims that the green grass symbolizes the prosperity that was evident in the small, organized communities of the late Roman Empire, which were destroyed by barbarian invasions; while the trees could symbolize the larger centres of commerce and civilization, two thirds of which survived this invasion (see). Using this method of interpretation one can create almost any scenario to “fit” with Revelation. I see no need for such extensive use of symbolism.
In Revelation 7:14 we discover casualties from the Great Tribulation appearing in heaven, which would appear to indicate that Revelation is indeed the fleshing out of the Great Tribulation Jesus refers to in Matthew’s gospel where He says:
For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened. (Mat 24:21-22)
It seems clear Jesus is talking about a time of chaos like no other in the history of the world and a plain reading of Revelation would agree with this prediction. However, historicism portrays this Great Tribulation as a prolonged, ongoing saga of persecution against the people of God throughout the 2000 year history of the church. This does not harmonise with Jesus’ teaching. Jesus described the Great Tribulation as a short, intense period immediately before His Second Coming (Mat 24:30), as the passage above also indicates. Another translation of verse 22 has Jesus saying:
And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. (Mat 24:22)
Jesus has placed this terrible time in a distinct order of events. He told His disciples:
Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: (Mat 24:29)
There will be no doubt what is happening, the Great Tribulation will be the worst time in the history of the world, and it will culminate in astronomical catastrophes never before imagined. Some may interpret “cut short” as simply bringing a long drawn out tribulation to an end, but it seems more accurate to view this as a time that is not overly long, certainly not 2000 years. Following this horrific time of tribulation the heavens will be shaken, then the Lord will return to the Earth and “all the tribes of the Earth” (Mat 24:30) will see Him and be devastated as they understand just what He has done for them and what they have rejected.
92 Daniel’s 70 weeks
Another historicist claim is that the four verse prophecy concerning Daniel’s 70 weeks of years (Dan 9:24-27) has already been fulfilled in its entirety, thus the 70 weeks of years are past and there is no future, final week (seven year period). If this were true then the purpose for the 70 weeks, which Gabriel outlined in Daniel 9:24, would also have been fulfilled, and this does not appear to be the case. Gabriel proclaimed:
A period of seventy sets of seven has been decreed for your people and your holy city in order:
to finish their rebellion,
to put an end to their sin,
to atone for their guilt,
to bring in everlasting righteousness,
to confirm the prophetic vision, and
to anoint the Most Holy Place. (Dan 9:24)
This is a succinct summary of God’s plan for the nation of Israel. Unless we somehow retrospectively reinterpret Daniel’s “people” and insist they are the church (the Jews now being simply a national entity and no longer the chosen people of Deuteronomy 7:6), it is clear this decree was given to Daniel’s people, who were the Jews. This is not a conditional prophecy, Gabriel told Daniel God intended that every part of the prophecy would take place in the future. Throughout the past 2000 years the Jewish people have continued to reject Jesus Christ as their Messiah and therefore their rebellion goes on.
God has revealed there can be no end to sin without the cross of Christ, nor is there any atonement or everlasting righteousness apart from Him. For this prophecy to be fulfilled, Daniel’s people, the Jews, would need to recognise Jesus as their Messiah and accept His gift of salvation. At this point in history the Jewish religious leaders continue to reject Jesus as the promised Messiah of the OT scriptures. Therefore, as this prophecy is yet to be fulfilled, I am inclined to accept the view that the 70 weeks have been cut into by the church dispensation, which is a parenthesis that began with the crucifixion, after the 69th week had been completed.
I believe there is good reason to view Jesus’ reference to Daniel as indicating this particular book of the OT holds the key to NT prophecy; particularly Daniel chapter 9, as He refers to the abomination of desolation (Dan 9:27) when He is alerting the disciples to the things they need to watch out for (Matthew 24:15). From our vantage point in history we can look back on world events and see that many of the prophecies in Daniel 9 are yet to be fulfilled. Therefore, the book of Daniel remains a key component in our understanding of end times prophecy.
Following Gabriel’s introduction of the 70 weeks of years in Daniel 9:24 he goes on to say:
Know therefore and discern, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Anointed One, the Prince, shall be seven weeks: and threescore and two weeks, it shall be built again, with street and moat, even in troublous times. (Dan 9:25)
This verse begins by alerting us to the need for attention to, and discernment of, what Gabriel is about to reveal. He informs Daniel that the 70 weeks will start with an agreement to “restore and to build Jerusalem.”
As mentioned earlier, this building occurred after Artaxerxes Longitmanus sent Nehemiah to rebuild Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2). The second half of the verse then breaks down the 70 weeks into the first seven weeks of years (7×7=49 years), which were to be spent rebuilding the city in extremely troublesome times and another 62 weeks of years. Verse 26 of Daniel 9 tells us that after the 62 weeks “the Anointed One will be cut off.” Christians identify the Anointed One as the Lord Jesus Christ, who was the fulfilment of OT law (Hebrews 7).
It was at this point in world history that God changed His mode of relationship with humanity. Until this point God’s relationship with His people had been through the law of Moses, which was given to the Jewish people to enable them to live godly lives. The ultimate, eternal Sacrifice, which all the Jewish sacrifices foreshadowed, had been performed, and the Jewish religious practices were now obsolete. From this point on God started a new mode of relating to humanity and the age of grace, the Church Age, began. This new dispensation centred round the New Covenant and the New Commandment announced by the Lord Jesus Christ.
When the Anointed One was crucified, darkness fell across the whole land; the veil of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom, the earth shook and rocks were split apart (Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke23:45). This event was the turning point in God’s dealings with humankind. The Jews could no longer expect God to speak to them through priests and prophets and their sacrifices were no longer necessary. They rejected God’s Messiah and they were no longer the focus of His attention. At this point God turned His attention to the church, the Body of Christ. This new body of people is comprised of not only those Jews who recognise Jesus as their long awaited Messiah, it also includes Gentiles, who could from that point on come near to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Creator and Redeemer of humankind.
The second half of Daniel 9 verse 26 contains a warning that “a ruler will arise whose armies will destroy the city and the Temple,” then the end of the verse mentions a period of fighting and instability. Forty years after the Anointed One was crucified (cut off) the city (Jerusalem) and the Temple were destroyed by the Roman general (later emperor) Titus, in 70AD, and since that time the Jewish people have certainly had extended periods of struggle as they fight to preserve their national identity and religious traditions.
In tears, Jesus prophesied about the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the magnificent Temple that was its heart, as Luke records:
Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side. They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not accept your opportunity for salvation.” (Luke 19:43-44)
While Matthew writes:
Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” (Mat 24:1-2)
Concerning the city Josephus records:
…..but for all the rest of the wall, it was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe it had ever been inhabited.(54)
Jesus warned Israel that their rejection of Him would have consequences. The prophecies Jesus made were fulfilled to the letter when the Roman soldiers, after burning the Temple to the ground, literally pulled what was left apart, stone by stone, to get to the gold that had covered the Temple walls (55). As the Temple burned the gold would have melted and run down between the huge stones. Josephus tells us that the Roman soldiers were bent on plunder and the gold would have been a rich reward for their horrific day’s work.
Gabriel gave Daniel the divisions in the 70 weeks for a specific reason. The Church Age can quite legitimately be seen as an interval between the 69th and 70th weeks, after which verse 27 introduces the final week (of years). The 70th week is scheduled to begin when a seven year peace treaty between a ruler and the Jewish people is signed. I believe this last week, or seven year period, is the Great Tribulation and the time of Jacob’s trouble (Jer 30:7), which will bring Daniel’s prophecy to a close. Half way through the seven years the ruler will break the treaty and turn on the Jews (Dan 9:27), but it seems clear that the final week of years is the time when the goals specified by Gabriel for the 70 weeks (that are distinctly outlined in verse 24) will be fully accomplished amongst the Jewish people.
History is filled with persecutions of the Jewish people. Even today anti-Semitism is rampant and it appears to have led to a total lack of understanding of the situation the Jewish people find themselves in. The Israeli/Palestinian dispute is constantly portrayed in the world’s media and most people have developed strong opinions concerning this conflict. I personally have never been able to take sides in this dispute. I feel for both peoples, as both strongly believe they have a right to live in the Holy Land and both groups desperately need the grace and salvation found only in the Lord Jesus Christ.
However, the Jewish people appear to demonstrate a strong respect for human life. They probably have nuclear weapons and could have obliterated all opposition, but they generally confine their warfare to defensive actions. From the beginning of the 20th century the dispersed Jewish people began to join the Palestinian Jews who had continued to live in Israel over the centuries. For the dispersed Jewish people, this was their final defence against the discrimination, pogroms and brutal behaviour of the peoples of the world. They had been persecuted in almost every country they sought to inhabit. After World War II (when the Palestinian Muslim leaders sided with Hitler against the Jews still living in the Middle East), they made a resolute decision; the nascent Zionist community that had been established in Israel would be their refuge.
I am always amazed at how this particular conflict has commanded such a prominent place in our modern times. There are other conflicts that could attract the world’s attention, but the fact that China has taken Tibet and Indonesia has claimed West Papua are hardly ever mentioned in the world media. Tibet and West Papua have similar sized populations and a great deal more territory, but the struggles of their indigenous peoples are almost completely ignored by the rest of the world. Even though controversy, if not sporadic conflict, continues in both these areas, they are rarely mentioned. The Tibetans and Papuans face Goliaths daily as the mighty nations that have devoured them continue to practice violent atrocities that are rarely, if ever, reported by the media (particularly in the case of West Papua). By contrast, the world’s eyes are constantly on Israel and the peace treaty is an international objective. There is no doubt that peace is what is desired and people who are aware of this prophecy are looking on with intense interest. If the preceding understanding of Daniel 9 is correct, a peace treaty would signal the beginning of the end!
93 Have the Jews been written out of the end times story?
The biblical teaching concerning Israel in the last days is another reason I doubt the historicist and preterist views lead to a correct understanding of end times prophecies. According to Historicism the word “Jew” in the NT is a metaphor for “Christian,” since the latter are the ones that are “truly circumcised,” and Preterism insists the Jews have been completely written out of the end times story. However, Paul was quite clear in his letter to the Romans when he explained that God has set a time for dealing with the gentiles, but He has not abandoned His chosen people, the Jews. He writes:
I want you to understand this mystery, dear brothers and sisters, so that you will not feel proud about yourselves. Some of the people of Israel have hard hearts, but this will last only until the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ. And so all Israel will be saved. As the Scriptures say, “The One who rescues will come from Jerusalem, and He will turn Israel away from ungodliness. And this is My covenant with them, that I will take away their sins.” Many of the people of Israel are now enemies of the Good News, and this benefits you Gentiles. Yet they are still the people He loves because He chose their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For God’s gifts and His call can never be withdrawn. (Rom 11:25-29)
How we view the role of the Jews in the world today, but more particularly how we understand God’s plan for the Jews, has a strong bearing on how we approach the Revelation. All Christians understand that God created the nation of Israel as a national entity as well as a holy people. God called Israel to be an example of His holiness to the world. He made them a great nation so that they would be effective in this work, but they became so caught up in the law and their national, religious and political power they lost their way and stopped trusting in God for their righteousness (Rom 9:32). They had so distanced themselves from God that when He was born into their midst they did not recognise Him.
Acts 1:6-8 reveals the Jews asking for their nation to be restored and Jesus responds by telling them to preach the gospel. He had not created them to be a world power or a religious institution, where men could dominate through their favoured positions; He created the nation of Israel to portray His holiness, but more importantly, to bring about a community into which He could be born into the world. God had carefully prepared the people who would surround and nurture His Son, and also those who would later realise just who He was and leave all to follow Him. The small band of Jews, who had recognised the Messiah during and just after His life on Earth, would be the beginning of a new body of people through whom God would work to proclaim the Truth to the world during the Church Age. But does this mean He has completely abandoned the nation He created?
I find it difficult to reinterpret the promises God made to Israel by insisting they are now meant for the church. There are many OT verses that specifically mention the physical and ethnic relationship of the Jewish people to the patriarchs who received such bountiful promises. There can be no doubt these verses are referring to the Jewish people. Micah proclaims:
Where is another God like You, who pardons the guilt of the remnant, overlooking the sins of His special people? You will not stay angry with Your people forever, because You delight in showing unfailing love. Once again You will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under Your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean! You will show us Your faithfulness and unfailing love as You promised to our ancestors Abraham and Jacob long ago. (Mic 7:18-20)
Even in the NT it seems clear that many promises have definite national aspects to them (Luke 1:46-55; 70-73). However, those who insist there is no future for Israel in the NT often quote Romans 9:6, which says:
Well then, has God failed to fulfill His promise to Israel? No, for not all who are born into the nation of Israel are truly members of God’s people!
Some claim this verse supports the view that God has no special, future place for national Israel; that His interest has now turned to “spiritual Israel.” However, this verse is really telling us that people will not be part of God’s eternal family because of their genealogy, but entirely through the death of Christ. This does not in any way nullify God’s promises to the nation of Israel, it actually extends them to the gentiles, while reminding the Jews that they must remain people of faith to become part of God’s eternal family.
Christ is indeed the fulfilment of the promises, and it is as we abide in Him that we also share in the promises. However, this does not necessarily cancel out Israel’s future role in God’s plan. Many aspects of the promises and prophecies have not yet been fulfilled, and many of these unfulfilled prophecies appear to relate specifically to Israel as a nation. For this reason I believe there is good scriptural evidence in both Old and New Testaments for some kind of future role for national Israel in God’s plan for the closing chapters of world history.
Christ fulfilled the law (Rom 10:4), and Paul makes it clear that no one could be made righteous through the law (Rom 3:20), but it would appear God has not permanently abandoned the people of the Torah. The Romans passage above (Romans 11:25-29) can be harmonised with the scriptures that see the church as spiritual Israel if we accept the concept of dispensations, or phases in God’s plan for humankind’s redemption. God has fulfilled many prophecies in Christ, but after the Rapture He will finish His work amongst the Jews when the “full number of the gentiles comes to Christ.” The hope of Israel is still the Lord Jesus Christ, their promised Messiah (Acts 28:20). It will be through Christ alone that Gabriel’s prophecy, which was outlined in Daniel 9:24, will be finally fulfilled. The Jews are not just any national entity, they are God’s chosen people, and God will complete what He has begun with the Jews when the Church Age is complete.
Supersessionism would appear to be an unnecessary contortion of the scriptures, where a whole new meaning is superimposed on much of the OT. Christians correctly regard many verses in the OT as referring to Jesus the Messiah, but this does not necessarily mean that God’s chosen people are now exclusively the church. The Jews were the chosen people before the Church Age, and there is good reason to believe they will be the focus of God’s work after the Church Age draws to a close.
Just how this final phase of God’s dealing with the Jewish people is worked out is yet to be seen. I do not believe the role of the redeemed Jews will be any different to that of other Christians after Jesus’ Second Coming, although they may once again inhabit the promised land during the Millennium (Eze 48). The Bible is clear, after the Second Coming there will be no distinction between gentiles and Jews (Romans 10:12, 1 Cor 1:24, 12:13, Gal 3:28, Eph 2:14, 18, 3:6, Col 3:11), we will all be equal members in the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ through His death and resurrection (Romans 3:29, 30). It is also quite clear that there will be no place for the OT law. Jesus has fulfilled the law, its role was to lead us to Christ.
I find I am also in agreement with those who see no further need for sacrifices during the Millennium. There is no doubt in my mind that the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross was much better than any the Levitical priests could make and therefore the cross renders a return to OT sacrifices completely unnecessary. Even the Jewish teachers who questioned Jesus understood that the sacrifices were symbolic, and that there was a better way to serve God. Mark records:
….. the scribe said unto Him, Of a truth, Teacher, thou hast well said that He is one; and there is none other but He: and to love Him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is much more than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices. (Mark 12:32-33)
The whole point of the OT sacrifices was to focus the attention of the people on the fatal consequences of sin. Paul told the Romans that it is because of sin that we die (Rom 5:12, 8:10). Jesus declared Himself to be the ultimate sacrifice for our sins when He said:
….. “This is My blood, which confirms the covenant between God and His people. It is poured out as a sacrifice for many. (Mark 14:24)
Paul also taught:
For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed His life, shedding His blood. (Romans 3:25a)
Paul gives us further insight into the NT understanding of sacrifice when he writes:
And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all He has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind He will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship Him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)
Our living and holy sacrifice is our “natural” selves. God has never required human sacrifice in the pagan understanding of this concept, in fact He abhors this practice. Instead we are to be a living sacrifice as we seek to put to death the natural inclinations and impulses of our fallen nature while pursuing a holy life and spiritual guidance from God through His indwelling Holy Spirit (Rom 6:6-8; 8:13; 13:13-14; 2 Cor 5:17; 7:1; Gal 2:20; 5:16-25; 6:8; Eph 4:22-24; Col 3:8-10).
Oswald Chambers writes:
Why did God demand that the natural must be sacrificed? God did not demand it. It is not God’s perfect will, but His permissive will. God’s perfect will was for the natural to be changed into the spiritual through obedience. Sin is what made it necessary for the natural to be sacrificed.(56)
From the beginning of time God fully intended to save humanity by Himself dieing that we might have life. When sin entered the world it became impossible for humanity to reach its potential through God’s preferred path, which was that the natural would “be changed into the spiritual through obedience.” Because of sin humanity could not attain immortality by obedience to the Creator, as the relationship that made this obedience possible had been severed.
God’s ultimate goal has always been the creation of an eternal, holy family with whom He can dwell. He created us in His image but when the fall removed our access to immortality He revealed His alternative plan, which was for the Lord Jesus Christ to lay down His life that we might have eternal life. Now the natural must be sacrificed rather than sanctified and it is in that sacrifice that sanctification is made possible through the blood (life) of Jesus Christ. If we give Him our lives we find a new, fuller life and we are transformed into new people – the eternal children of the Living, Eternal, Father God.
The idea that this one Man, Jesus Christ, would be the substitute who takes the penalty for the sins of the whole world is God’s idea, not ours. This concept is not a human construct, it is a God given Way for us to be remade into people who can have an eternal, loving relationship with their holy Creator. We must humbly come to the cross of Christ and accept His gift. The blood (life) that He shed for us is the means by which we can be imparted with the new life, the eternal life God wants each person to experience. Through Christ’s blood a sinner can become a saint, all the OT sacrifices were shadows of this eternal Truth. Not through pious performances, prayers, fasting or even altruistic lifestyles can we achieve immortality, but through Christ’s blood alone.
As Paul explained to the Romans:
But God showed His great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, He will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of His Son while we were still His enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of His Son. (Romans 5:8-10)
Although there is no now need for sacrifices or the law, a plain reading of Revelation 7:4 nevertheless reveals God working through Messianic Jews, taken from the tribes of Israel and sealed for His service; thus their genealogical heritage is somehow important during the Great Tribulation. The marvellous truth is that the 144,000 Messianic Jews will be the most amazing missionaries the world has ever seen.
While the Great Tribulation is being played out, as civilisation crumbles and modern society loses all of its technological advantages, the 144,000 Jewish missionaries will be reaching out to the peoples of the world by sharing the gospel message. When people finally realise how fleeting are the rewards of materialism, they will let go of the transitory things of this world and turn back to their Creator in astounding numbers. It is significant that after the 144,000 servants of God are sealed and go forth preaching the gospel, Revelation 7:9 reveals a multitude of believers “out of every nation and of all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” It seems the ground upon which the seed of the gospel is sown by these born again Jews during the Great Tribulation reaps a rich harvest of souls for Christ’s Eternal Kingdom. Verse 14 tells us that “These are they which come out of the great tribulation, and they washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” This great multitude from all over the world will be saved during the world’s most horrific times. I am saddened to think that so many people will have to experience this time of tribulation and so I continue to hope for a great revival of belief in Christ before the Rapture. Lord God may it be so!
I do not claim to have reached any deep understanding of prophetic scriptures and I look forward to further study, but it seems things are not always black and white. Messianic prophecy and promises are intertwined with prophecy and promises to the children of Jacob/Israel. To simply insist on supersessionism does not seem to deal fully with the issue, but neither would I call myself a dispensationalist, because to my mind this too has some questionable aspects. Thankfully doctrine is a progressive process. The body of Christ shares and debates, considers and prays, and together we grow. I look forward to continuing this journey.
94 What about the Rapture?
After accepting the futurist approach and a role for national Israel during the end times as the most scripturally convincing model, the next decision I needed to make was whether The Bible taught that Jesus would come for His people before the Second Coming. In other words, are there good scriptural reasons to believe there will be a Rapture of the true church before the Second Coming? I believe there are.
When we look to the scriptures we find that Jesus places His Second Coming immediately after the tribulation, Matthew records Him saying:
Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the Earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. (Mat 24:29-30)
If the saints are raptured at the time of the Second Coming this would have to be after the Great Tribulation. However, Paul assured the Thessalonians they would be rescued from the wrath to come because they serve the living God. Writer Jeff Kluttz points out that this passage contains a well constructed grammatical symmetry. In his book, The Return of the King, Kluttz refers to the Thessalonians passage where Paul writes:
For they themselves are telling people how you welcomed us, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve the true and living God, and to await His Son from Heaven, whom He raised from the dead, Jesus, the One delivering us from the coming wrath. (1Th 1:9-10)
In his letter Paul praised the Thessalonian church members for having turned from idols to God and for their steadfastness in serving and waiting for His Son from heaven. This Son, Jesus, is the One who rescues us from “the coming wrath“. Kluttz sees two parts in verse 10 that complement each other nicely. He points out that the Son, who is being waited for, is the One who will deliver those who are waiting from “the coming wrath” (57). He will return not only to complete His work on Earth, but to deliver those who await His return from the final turmoil that will be the result of God’s wrath.
Paul also assured the Romans they would be saved from wrath when he wrote:
But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. (Rom 5:8-9)
Some futurists claim that being “saved from wrath” means God will keep His people safe, despite the fact that they will remain on Earth during the seven years of the Great Tribulation. Kluttz persuasively points to the gospel of Luke as containing a key passage, which presents the possibility that some people will not just be cared for during the Great Tribulation, but will actually escape it. Luke records Jesus’ words:
Watch out! Don’t let your hearts be dulled by carousing and drunkenness, and by the worries of this life. Don’t let that day catch you unaware, like a trap. For that day will come upon everyone living on the earth. Keep alert at all times. And pray that you might be strong enough to escape these coming horrors and stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:34-36)
“That day,” referred to in verse 34, refers to the distress of the great tribulation in the context of Jesus’ teaching. He states of that day that “it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth.” This is an iron clad statement, using several over-kill words. Jesus’ point is clear: if you live on earth, the great tribulation will come upon you and will affect you. However, Jesus does not presume in his teaching that everyone learning from his teachings will be on earth at that time. He encourages his students in verse 36 to “pray that you may be able to escape” all that will happen in that day. While he had just noted that there could be no escape for anyone living on the earth in that day he also inspires them to pray to somehow be able to escape this coming day. Clearly the possibility exists for someone to escape. And, if these events will fall upon everyone living on earth, then the only way to escape is to not be on earth when that day arrives. (58)
When we look at:
For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. (1Th 4:16-17)
We see that when the Rapture takes place, the believers will be removed from the Earth to meet the Lord in the air. The dead in Christ and the living believers are removed from the Earth and by implication the unbelievers are left behind. The believers alone are mentioned in this passage and it is the beginning of the time when they shall “ever be with the Lord.” It is indeed a time that is eagerly anticipated by those who love and follow the Lord Jesus Christ.
Compare the preceding verse to:
Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn. (Mat 13:30)
…which Jesus clarifies:
The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. (Mat 13:41-42)
Here the unbelievers are the ones removed in judgment and the believers are the ones left behind alive on the earth, which has now become the worldwide kingdom of the Son of Man. These verses are not in conflict when we view the Thessalonians passage as referring to the Rapture (the time when Jesus comes to gather the elect before the Great Tribulation) and the Matthew passage as dealing with His Second Coming, when the angels will separate and remove from the Earth those who continue in disbelief; this time leaving behind those who have accepted Jesus’ gift of salvation during the Great Tribulation.
The Rapture is a time of “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13) while the Second Coming, in stark contrast, is a time of dreadful judgment (Mat 13:42).
Right now the saints are eagerly awaiting the glorious return of their Saviour. Hebrews assures us:
..so also Christ died once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for Him. (Heb 9:28)
This coming is not to deal with sin, because those who have accepted His substitutionary death have had their sins dealt with already; it is a coming for those who eagerly await Him – those intentionally living lives that reflect the teachings of the Lord through His Word. As the Luke passage above indicates, Jesus constantly warned His listeners to “Watch” for His return. In Luke’s gospel He says:
But watch ye at every season, making supplication, that ye may prevail to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man. (Luke 21:36)
Those who believe in the pre-tribulation Rapture anticipate the saints meeting the Lord in the air and consequently escaping the terrible things that will take place on the Earth during the Great Tribulation (1 Thes 1:10). After the Rapture believers are taken to “stand before the Son of Man” at the believers’ judgment seat, the Bema Judgment, where they are rewarded for perseverance during their earthly lives. Jesus taught:
Blessed are ye when men shall reproach you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets that were before you. (Mat 5:11-12)
And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of His return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to His appearing. (2 Timothy 4:8)
While Peter tells us:
And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor. (1 Peter 5:4)
However, Paul also told the Corinthians:
For God has already placed Jesus Christ as the one and only foundation, and no other foundation can be laid. Some will use gold or silver or precious stones in building on the foundation; others will use wood or grass or straw. And the quality of each person’s work will be seen when the Day of Christ exposes it. For on that Day fire will reveal everyone’s work; the fire will test it and show its real quality. If what was built on the foundation survives the fire, the builder will receive a reward. But if your work is burnt up, then you will lose it; but you yourself will be saved, as if you had escaped through the fire. (1Corinthians 3:11-15)
God is a consuming fire (Deut 4:24, 9:3; Heb 12:29). When we stand before our Lord on that day, anything we have built that is not of Him will be totally consumed by His presence. While the believer will be purified by this fire, the unbeliever will perish in the Lake of Fire. The difference is due entirely to the fact that the believer is in Christ, who covers us in His righteousness.
Some might insist that the time for rewards and the time of judgment will occur concurrently. Admittedly this is quite possible, but it seems more scripturally accurate to me that the saints are raptured, transformed, stand before the bema seat to be rewarded (or stripped of their false teachings) and are taken to the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev 19:9); while those who have rejected the gospel (refusing to listen to the One who can save them from the wrath to come), will live through a time of terrible trial and tribulation. During this time, those who have been “left behind” may yet take advantage of the opportunities God will create for them to see the state of the world without the restraining power of the Holy Spirit at work and finally admit humanity’s desperate need for the Creator’s gift of salvation.
95 Anyone with ears to hear should listen
In a very real sense biblical Christians are the ambassadors of reality in the world today. We are neither optimists nor pessimists, we seek the truth. From our personal relationship with the Lord we understand from His Word that although the world is fallen and humanity is flawed, we have a great hope before us. Sadly, many people refuse to see and hear this reality and are therefore oblivious to the Greater Reality. Jesus often spoke about people refusing to listen to His words, He said:
Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.” His disciples came and asked Him, “Why do You use parables when You talk to the people?” He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven, but others are not. To those who listen to My teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them. That is why I use these parables, For they look, but they don’t really see. They hear, but they don’t really listen or understand. (Matthew 13:9-13)
Perhaps when the full nature of humanity’s inhumanity is evident, many who have been deceived by Satan’s anthology of lies will be able to see past the world’s false representation of reality and will seek out the Greater Reality. Certainly this must be what the Father desires (1Timothy 2:4). Jesus talked about His coming to bring light, and this light is also the light that illuminates the mind. Jesus said:
For all that is secret will eventually be brought into the open, and everything that is concealed will be brought to light and made known to all. So pay attention to how you hear. To those who listen to My teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what they think they understand will be taken away from them.” (Luke 8:17-18)
Our minds have been darkened by Satan’s lies, but Jesus wants to shine His light into our minds so that we can see and understand the truth of the gospel. I must admit I find it difficult to know what it is that brings people to the point where they actually stop and listen with open minds to the Word of God, and tragically many never do. It is perhaps easier to understand why people don’t listen. Our world is filled with authoritative voices proclaiming Satan’s lies and unfortunately many refuse to even entertain the possibility of a spiritual reality. In our media rich world, numerous intelligent, outspoken critics of Jesus’ message have created an atmosphere of intellectual snobbery around atheism; consequently it is considered by some people to be almost an admission of poor education or a lack of intelligence to believe in anything other than the material universe. However, God’s Word tells us that if we seek Him with all our heart and soul we will find Him (Deut 4:29).
I heard a young woman on television recently comment that because she loved science, she was not at all interested in the supernatural or anything to do with God. The fact that she viewed these two areas as mutually exclusive is almost certainly attributable to the strong naturalist emphasis in the media and public education systems throughout the western world today. She, and thousand like her, appear to have no idea how closed minded this attitude is. There is no doubt that Isaac Newton, Carolus Linneaus, Michael Faraday, Louis Pasteur, Gregor Mendel and Joseph Lister also loved science, but these men had no difficulty also seeing the Greater Reality. In today’s world people like Dr Raymond Damadian, who invented the MRI scanner, also have no difficulty loving both science and their Creator.
96 Why would God allow a Great Tribulation?
During the present Church Age, the Father has been reaching out to people all over the world in a gentle, loving way. Since Jesus went to be with the Father and sent us the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, to be our means of contact with the only true God, He has been lovingly directing His people through His Word and reaching out to the world through His gospel. Just as a parent attempts to bring a child into line with gentle persuasion, our Father has been attempting to bring us into His Eternal Kingdom with love and grace. But eventually, when a child refuses to be turned from their stubborn determination to take a destructive path, the parent uses more forceful tactics, and so it will be with God.
Once the Holy Spirit’s restraining work has ceased and the church is removed, there will be people in the midst of the chaos that will ensue, who were impervious to God’s gentle persuasion. Finally, they will stop and listen to, hear and accept the gospel message, having been driven to the Truth by the brutal, godless reality they find themselves in. Throughout the Great Tribulation God will compellingly reach out to save the lost, but those people who come to Him during this time will suffer terrible persecution, often at the cost of their own lives. This company of martyred, tribulation saints will find a special place in God’s heart (Rev 7:9-17).
I find it difficult to envision a world where the Holy Spirit is no longer holding back the powers of evil, but perhaps this was reality before the Comforter (Restrainer) came to Earth (John 16:7-8). The secular world believes our modern civilisation is the result of human moral evolution, but as Christians we can see it has been the work of the Holy Spirit that has influenced our civilisation. Through the Holy Spirit’s work God drew humankind into a new cultural norm that was greatly influenced by the teachings of Jesus, and it is this that brought about a better world.
New Age teachings would have us believe we all have a spark of God within us. Thus God is perceived as some sort of unified, human, psychic force, which individuals need to nurture and grow. If God is simply something that has evolved, as a human collective subconsciousness, he is nothing more than a human construct and we can make of him whatever we choose. The difficulty arises when different people groups choose to give him different faces. However, the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ has revealed Himself as unique; pre-existing all of His creation. He has also revealed that 6000 years ago the creature did not have the moral fibre of the Creator. The Creator had to step into human history to make the changes that were necessary for humanity to regain what was lost by their rebellion.
Today, humanist leaders all over the world are trying to dismantle the Christian foundations upon which our western civilisation is based. The world is rejecting the Creator on a grand scale and the great falling away Paul warned would come has begun (2 Thes 2:3). Although the church and the Holy Spirit are still present in the world, it will become increasingly more difficult for people to actually hear the gospel in the days to come. Many in the church have abandoned the authority of The Bible and are preaching a watered down version of the gospel, which is nothing more than humanism with Christian terminology. It seems impossible that the revival many believers are hoping and praying for to occur will happen, without a mighty intervention from God.
When the Restrainer is removed and the Great Tribulation begins, the 144,000 Messianic Jews mentioned in Revelation 7:3 will be called out as God’s servants to evangelise the unhappy souls who refused to listen to His Word before the Rapture. Along with these Jewish believers there will be Bibles and Christian books left behind for people to consult, but the church will be gone. I have heard Christians state that they are not happy about this, that we are cowards to leave the unsaved behind during such violent and chaotic times.
Anyone with a conscience can understand such a sentiment, but that is exactly what it is, sentiment. It is the same sort of sentiment that makes people question why God has allowed suffering and that Peter expressed when he begged the Lord to avoid the cross (Mat 16:22-23). The truth is, we would never understand how devastating sin actually is if God had not allowed suffering. We are assuming a great deal if we believe we can bring people into the kingdom by our presence when God knows it is time to move on to the next phase of His plan. God’s love will be extended in a very different way during the Great Tribulation. It will be the absence of His presence that will highlight His love. Until that time we must continue to present the gospel to people, but ultimately they are responsible for their responses.
Matthew records what has come to be known as the Olivet Discourse. This discussion took place a few days before the crucifixion, when Jesus and His disciples were sitting together on the Mount of Olives. In this passage Jesus gives the disciples a list of things to watch out for that will be the precursors to His return (Mat 24). He instructs the disciples to keep watch for His return and then He recounts The Parable of the Ten Virgins (Mat 25:1-13).
This parable concerns ten young women who are part of a wedding party. They each have a lamp and they go to meet the bridegroom to accompany him to the wedding feast, but they are left waiting many hours before the bridegroom comes to join them. After the long wait they fall asleep and when they wake up five of the young women find they have forgotten to bring oil for their lamps and while they are searching for a place to buy more oil the bridegroom comes and they are locked out of the feast.
The parable illustrates the point that we are each individually responsible to prepare ourselves for the bridegroom’s coming. The five unprepared women, who had not brought extra oil, tried to procure it from those who had made preparation and had brought extra oil for their lamps. Jesus calls the women who had made their preparation wise. They understood they needed to take it upon themselves to prepare for the time ahead. The unprepared virgins had hoped those with extra oil would share it with them, but the wise women sent them to find oil for themselves.
We must each make our own preparations if we want to be part of the Bridegroom’s wedding feast, we will not be able to depend on another person’s vigilance, we must make preparations for ourselves. The oil in this parable represents the Holy Spirit. Unless we have personally asked God to fill us with His Holy Spirit we will not be able to go with the Bridegroom and will be left behind at the Rapture. The Holy Spirit cannot be procured from another believer, we must personally go to the source for our own supply.
After the Rapture people will continue to be born again and the Holy Spirit will be born into these new believers; but it will be a different world when the Restrainer is no longer holding back the powers of Satan and his minions. These new believers will also be spreading the gospel, but this will be at great personal cost. The graphic descriptions of this time in the Revelation are probably not far from the mark, as demonic powers are manifested and appear throughout the world and the 21 terrible judgments of the Revelation run their course.
Following the 144,000 Messianic Jews, who go out into the world to spread the gospel, there are two witnesses with miraculous powers who also preach and prophesy for three and a half years in Jerusalem (Rev 11:1-14). Then, finally, God will make one last, great announcement to humanity, when He sends an angel to proclaim the everlasting gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. It will be God’s angelic messenger who is the last evangelist, the angel will broadcast to the peoples of the world that the time has come for them to make the most important decision they will ever make. This angel will be seen and heard by every person on Earth and he will declare that judgment is at hand and they must all immediately decide whether they will give their lives into the hands of their Creator and accept His gift of salvation.
And I saw another angel flying in mid heaven, having an eternal gospel to proclaim unto them that dwell on the Earth, and unto every nation and tribe and tongue and people; and he saith with a great voice, Fear God, and give him glory; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship Him that made the heaven and the Earth and sea and fountains of waters. (Rev 14:6-7)
97 Twenty-One Terrible Judgments
During the Great Tribulation God will pour out 21 terrible judgments upon the Earth. In Revelation 5 we find the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, the Lamb that was slain opens the seals which release:
The Seal Judgments
1. The world’s greatest dictator (Revelation 6:1-2)
2. The world’s greatest war (Revelation 6:3-4)
3. The world’s greatest famine (Revelation 6:5-6)
4. The world’s greatest death blow (Revelation 6:7-8)
5. The world’s greatest persecution (Revelation 6:9-11)
6. The world’s greatest ecological disaster (Revelation 6:12-17)
7. The world’s greatest hour of fear … actually the lull before the storm (Revelation 8:1)
Following the seal judgments are:
The Trumpet Judgments
The trumpets of heaven sound an alarm throughout the world announcing the public judgments of God. Each blast ushers in an added judgment.
1. The world’s greatest fire (Revelation 8:7)
2. The world’s greatest oceanic disturbance (Revelation 8:8-9)
3. The world’s greatest pollution of water (Revelation 8:10-11)
4. The world’s greatest darkness (Revelation 8:12-13)
5. The world’s greatest pestilential invasion (Revelation 9:1-6)
6. The world’s greatest army (Revelation 9:16)
7. The world’s greatest storm (Revelation 11:15-19)
These are followed by:
The Vial Judgments
1. The world’s greatest epidemic (Revelation 16:2)
2. The world’s greatest contamination by blood (sea) (Revelation 16:3-7)
3. The world’s greatest contamination by blood (rivers & springs) (Revelation 16:3-7)
4. The world’s greatest scorching (Revelation 16:8-9)
5. The world’s greatest plague (Revelation 16:10-11)
6. The world’s greatest invasion (Revelation 16:12)
7. The world’s greatest earthquake (Revelation 16:18) (see)
At the end of this terrible time of tribulation, during which the Father makes His final call to lost humanity, Jesus will return with the risen and transformed saints for the battle known as Armageddon. The terrible judgments of Revelation are over and the Lord arrives with His retinue to dispatch Satan and his cohort. This is the Second Coming. At this time God’s holy angels will remove from the Earth all those who stubbornly continue to reject the Lord of life (Rev 9:20,21; 16:11), while the newly redeemed tribulation saints, who remain on the Earth, will live on into the Millennium with the raptured saints who returned with the Lord. The tares will be removed from the wheat and the raptured saints will join the followers of Jesus who are left behind this time to live on through a thousand years in which the Lord of lords will reign on the Earth.
In the little book of Jude, we find in a discussion concerning the fate of those who have denied the Lord Jesus Christ:
Enoch, who lived in the seventh generation after Adam, prophesied about these people. He said, “Listen! The Lord is coming with countless thousands of His holy ones to execute judgment on the people of the world. He will convict every person of all the ungodly things they have done and for all the insults that ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.” (Jude 1:14-15)
Although some versions of The Bible translate the “holy ones” in this verse as angels, the NT has another word for angels, it is ἄγγελος (angelos). The Greek word in this verse is ἅγιος (hageeos), which means sacred, blameless, ceremonially consecrated, holy (one or thing) or saint. Thus the resurrected and transformed saints will accompany the Lord of lords at the Second Coming, when He returns to bring judgment to the world. These holy ones will not be part of this judgment (as it is the angels who prepare the Earth for the Lord to reign), but they will be in the train of supporters who watch as the Risen Son of God brings about God’s realised kingdom on Earth. Jesus told His disciples:
And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with much power and glory. And then He will send His angels and will gather His elect from the four winds, from the end of earth to the end of heaven. (Mar 13:26-27)
In this passage the elect are gathered together “from the end of earth to the end of heaven.” A form of this term is used as an idiom for the gathering of scattered people in other parts of The Bible (Jer 49:36; Daniel 11:4; Zec 2:6), but here we find the phrase used in the context of Jesus’ return from His heavenly abode and with the addition of the reference to the uttermost parts of both heaven and Earth. Thus the Rapture of 1 Thessalonians 4 is the time when God catches away from the Earth all those who are eagerly awaiting His return before the Great Tribulation. The Second Coming happens after the Great Tribulation, when Jesus returns with His elect (now dressed in the finest of pure white linen (Rev 3:4)), who have been gathered together, not just from the Earth – but from one end of heaven to the other, to accompany the Lord Jesus when He returns in judgment.
Then I saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. Its rider was named Faithful and True, for He judges fairly and wages a righteous war. His eyes were like flames of fire, and on His head were many crowns. A name was written on Him that no one understood except Himself. He wore a robe dipped in blood, and His title was the Word(Logos) of God. The armies of heaven, dressed in the finest of pure white linen, followed Him on white horses. (Rev 19:11-14)
The innocent man who was crucified to take away the penalty for our sin will be the One who brings fair and righteous judgment to the Earth.
Looking at events this way these passages are all in harmony. It seems that the scriptural references to the Rapture and the Second Coming are best understood when we view them as containing events that occur on two separate occasions, happening at different times in world history.
98 Timeless imagery or historical chronology?
Despite the fact that the Revelation is filled with graphic imagery, we can still take a plain reading approach to the book. John’s record reads as a chronological unfolding of future events and I see no reason for us to decide God intended it to be viewed in any other way. It is actually the last big prophetic outline for the church and all other prophecy must be harmonised with it. In Revelation 1:19 Jesus tells John to:
Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter; (Rev 1:19)
This is a timeline, a progression. To this point John “hast seen” and described the Risen Christ (a description that is remarkably similar to that given by Daniel (Dan 7:9)), who instructed him to write down what he is about to see and send a copy to the churches. The “things which are” relate to seven churches that existed at the time John received the Revelation near the end of the first century. Jesus gives an individual assessment of each of these seven churches in chapters 2 and 3.
Immediately after the analysis of the seven churches a door is opened and John is invited into heaven. He writes:
After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter. (Rev 4:1)
Although it is not stated explicitly, there is good reason to believe that this is the point in the Revelation chronology at which the believers are Raptured. The “things which must be hereafter” are about to be revealed. After the assessment of the seven churches, which some believe is also a prophetic outline of church history (see), the focus moves to heaven. Pre-tribulationists believe it is at this point in the fulfilling of the Revelation that the church will be taken out of the Earth and will “come up hither” before the terrifying “things” are unleashed. There is strong scriptural evidence to support this claim.
The church is not mentioned again from this point until after Jesus has brought the Revelation chronology to an end, when He is once again instructing John to make sure His message is sent out to the churches. Then He says:
I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star. (Rev 22:16)
Some people claim that to see Revelation 4 to 19 as a prophecy that excludes the church means the book becomes irrelevant to the church. Nothing could be further from the truth. The church must be passionately concerned about the eternal destiny of all peoples everywhere. The fact that billions of people will be left behind on an earth where Satan and his minions are ravaging humanity must always concern the church, even though she won’t be involved. Until that time Revelation should serve as an urgent prompt to action. Jesus explicitly sent this message to the church, and the church has a moral duty to work unceasingly to bring the gospel to everyone alive on the planet today. After the Rapture the tribulation saints will be looking very carefully at the book of Revelation.
The words “church” and “churches” occur 22 times in the first three chapters of Revelation (1:3, 4, 11, 20 [twice]; 2:1, 5, 7, 8, 11, 12, 17, 18, 23, 29; 3:1, 4, 6, 7, 13, 14, 22) but are completely absent from chapters 4 through to 19, when all of the catastrophic occurrences are described. In other words, the church does not appear to be part of the era when God pours out His wrath upon the Earth. In answer to their prayers, the church will have escaped (Luke 21:36).
In Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 29 and 3:6, 13, 22 Jesus says:
“Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what He is saying to the churches.”
This exact phrase is used seven times in chapters 2 and 3 but in chapter 13 verse 9 we find:
Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.
The church is significantly absent from chapters 4 through to 19; however, there is mention of holy people (13:7, 10), and they will be those who accept Jesus as their Saviour during the Great Tribulation. These tribulation saints will endure incredible hardship and be persecuted to the point where there will be no opportunity to create a church in the way the church existed before the Rapture. As the church has been taken out of the world they can no longer be baptised into the body of believers (1 Cor 12:13), but believers will still be indwelt and guided by the Holy Spirit.
If the church is removed from the Earth we could assume they have been transported to heaven, because that is where John was taken. There is good scriptural evidence that this is indeed the case. After John is taken up into heaven he sees:
Twenty-four thrones surrounded Him, and twenty-four elders sat on them. They were all clothed in white and had gold crowns on their heads. (Rev 4:4)
These elders cannot be angels, as far as we know angels were all created at the same time and are all the same age, so there are no “elder” angels. Also angels are never described as sitting in God’s presence, but the elect are. As Paul tells us:
For He raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. (Eph 2:6)
These elders are described as being clothed in white with gold crowns on their heads. Although angels are often said to be wearing white clothing, Jesus had just explained that the saints in Sardis, who have not defiled their garments, would wear white. He said:
Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy. (Rev 3:4)
Nor is there any mention in scripture of angels wearing crowns, whereas the saints are often mentioned as being rewarded with crowns. In 2 Timothy 4:8 there is a crown of righteousness, James 1:12 and Rev 2:10 mention crowns of life and 1 Peter 5:4 adds the crown of glory. All these crowns are rewarded to the faithful and eventually Jesus says:
I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take away your crown. (Rev 3:11)
Throughout the rest of chapter 4 there is a time of praise and worship as those who are born again and are now with the Lord in heaven acknowledge the wondrous work of God in and through the Lord Jesus Christ.
There is good reason to believe these elders are the elders of the raptured church seated in heavenly places with Christ. In Revelation 5 we find:
And when He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one having harps and golden vials full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, You are worthy to take the book and to open its seals, for You were slain and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every kindred and tongue and people and nation. (Rev 5:8-9)
Jesus redeems people, not angels; these are indeed the redeemed of the Lord. Some commentators surmise that the 24 elders are the 12 Jewish patriarchs and the 12 disciples of Jesus. This may be so as the church will have joined the saints from the OT during the Rapture.
Chapter 5 is concerned with the declaration that the Lamb of God is the only One worthy to open the book that is tightly closed with seven seals. At this point Jesus is referred to as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David,” and His relationship to Israel is now emphasised. All that is about to be released relates to Israel and it is clear the church is no longer the centre of God’s focus on Earth; God has turned His attention back to the Jews.
Chapter 6 records the opening of the first four seals of the book, which release four riders, each on different coloured horses. These bring great disasters to the people of the Earth. The opening of the fifth seal reveals an altar, under which a multitude of martyrs await justice and the opening of the sixth seal leads to earthquakes and other catastrophic events. Then we hear:
And they said to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him sitting on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of His wrath has come, and who will be able to stand?” (Rev 6:16-17)
Those who stubbornly refuse to recognise the Truth will finally be forced to admit that this is God’s world; it did not spontaneously burst into existence from chance chemical reactions. But sadly many do not turn in repentance to the God who created them; instead they choose to hide from Him, even though they know He is about to pour out the wrath He has warned for thousands of years would finally come. At this point in the Revelation the great day of God’s wrath is about to dawn on the Earth, but first the 144,000 servants of God from all the tribes of Israel are sealed to protect them from God’s wrath.
Those who claim Israel has no future, believing the Lord Jesus is the fulfilment of all the promises to Israel, must face the fact that the tribes of Israel are central here. Some commentators see this passage as symbolic, and many interpretations have been suggested for the 144,000 Israelis; however, a plain reading approach needs no such interpretations. As mentioned earlier, these Messianic Jews are called to carry the message of salvation to the people living through the Great Tribulation, which is systematically laid out through the next eleven chapters of the Revelation (Rev 8-18). Throughout this entire period there is no mention of the church.
Further judgment is delivered after the seventh seal is opened (Rev 8:1), then after this horrendous seven year period draws to a close, God will call an end to His final, unmistakable attempt to bring people into His Eternal Kingdom. He will have spent thousands of years reaching out to rebellious humanity, graciously offering them the free gift of eternal life, which He procured through His own death on the cross. This final, catastrophic seven year phase will be the climax, and if it were not cut short no one would survive (Mat 24:22). The Lord Jesus will then return with His raptured saints to establish His millennial kingdom.
99 The first resurrection and the Millennium
Since He sent His Son to rescue us from death (2 Cor 1:5; Gal 1:4), we know that those who accept God’s gift of eternal life will be resurrected to life and go on into eternity with the Lord Jesus after the resurrection and Rapture Paul refers to in his first letter to the Thessalonians (1Thes 4:16). It is the timing of this resurrection and the Rapture that has presented difficulties for the church, and it is this issue that took me a number of years to work through. I now believe there are four distinct stages of the first resurrection, and the one associated with the Rapture of the church is but one.
- The very first person to be resurrected to eternal life was, of course, the Lord Jesus who, as the Head of the Body of Christ and the “first fruits of them that slept,” (1 Cor 15:20-25) opened the Way into eternal life for the Old and New Testament saints. As such, Jesus’ resurrection was the first stage of the first resurrection mentioned as being completed in Revelation 20:5. In this first phase a number of saints who had been buried near Jerusalem also rose from their graves and went into Jerusalem and were seen by many people (Mat 27:52-53). We do not know the fate of these saints, they may well have experienced a second death as Lazarus did.
- The second stage of this first resurrection happens just prior to the Rapture Paul describes in 1 Thessalonians, when those who are “asleep in Christ” are raised from the dead to join the living believers, then all the saints meet the Lord in the air shortly before the beginning of the Great Tribulation (1 Thes 4:15-17; 1 Cor 15:51-52).
- Following the Rapture of the resurrected and living saints, the two witnesses are also resurrected and taken into heaven during the Great Tribulation (Rev 11:11), this is the third stage.
- Finally, there is the resurrection of the tribulation saints mentioned in Revelation 20:4. When the tribulation saints are resurrected the first resurrection, which is the resurrection of the righteous, is completed (Rev 20:5).
Those who are part of this first resurrection will not be subject to the second death (Rev 20:6), but instead will be given a productive role in Christ’s millennial kingdom which is introduces in Revelation 20:5.
Some people believe we are now living through the Millennium, whether a literal thousand years, or a “long period of time,” this would nevertheless mean that Satan has been bound (Rev 20:2-3) and is consequently unable to deceive humankind. From my observations, in this present age, Satan is very active and has calculatedly sown confusion, lies and intricate counterfeits amongst the peoples of the world throughout the last six thousand years.
In his defence of amillennialism, reformed theologian, Professor David Engelsma claims:
The binding of Satan is the restraint of him in this one respect: he cannot establish the kingdom of Antichrist. (59)
The Bible actually states:
Satan could not deceive the nations anymore until the thousand years were finished. (Rev 20:3)
There is no evidence of Satan being bound throughout the past two millennia. There has been constant deception in the nations throughout the entire period of time from the establishment of the church to the present day. Consequently, there is no reason to believe we are either living through the Millennium now or that the Millennium is something that occurred earlier in church history.
The Millennium will be a time of restoration. It seems feasible to view the Great Tribulation as a time when the Creator dismantles all the evil, ungodly structures humankind has created on His Earth that promote injustice, oppression, war, famine, poverty and inequality. Once again our Father will work all things together to bring good out of the evil times the Great Tribulation will prove to be. After the great demolishing of the rebellious kingdoms of this world, Jesus will establish His kingdom on Earth and He will reign for a thousand years, presiding over the only true theocracy that will ever have existed on this planet. During this time of prosperity and peace, justice and righteousness will prevail and the Earth will be restored to her original splendour.
Whatever people choose to believe about the book of Revelation the primary message is clear, the Lord Jesus Christ will be triumphant and He will come again to reward his people for their faithfulness to Him. He will also punish Satan and those who follow him. After the devastating time that Jesus called the Great Tribulation and His magnificent millennial reign the “rest of the dead” will be raised (Rev 20:5). John goes on to record:
And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne; and books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of the things which were written in the books, according to their works. (Rev 20:12)
Eventually there will be a new heaven and a new Earth with no crying, suffering, pain or death. Those who have placed their faith in the atoning work of the Lord Jesus Christ will have access to both the Tree of Life (Rev 22:14) and the water of life (Rev 22:17).
Human access to the Tree of Life had been cut off at the very beginning of time, thus removing any hope for immortality (Gen 3:22-24). At the very end of God’s Word we find that Jesus has made it possible for anyone and everyone to have renewed access, not only to the tree, but also to the water of life and He has promised eternal life in the new heaven and new Earth to all who will accept His free gift of salvation. John declares:
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” Let anyone who hears this say, “Come.” Let anyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who desires drink freely from the water of life. (Rev 22:17)
Just like the Lord’s Supper, these symbols of life point us to the true source of life, Jesus Christ. The tree and the water do not have miraculous powers, even though they are no doubt physical realities, like the bread and the wine of the sacrament, they are physical reminders of the spiritual reality. Eternal life is found in the Son who has made it possible for us to eat and drink of the eternal life only the Father can provide.
People who have chosen to believe Jesus’ words know with absolute certainty that their eternal destiny is to be with God and His Son in the new creation. Many believers have taken the time to be well informed about this aspect of their lives. By contrast, the eternal destiny of the thousands of unbelievers around them is often an area to which they give little real attention. Most appear to carelessly accept the traditional teachings of their own particular denomination concerning the ultimate fate of the unbelieving dead.
Unbelievers also tend to steer clear of thoughts concerning the afterlife, although some appear to hold beliefs that are largely based on popular culture and mythology. These people usually have an understanding of the afterlife that is a mishmash of half truths and sentimental fables, which occasionally include a sort of human to angel transformation. However, The Bible is clear, the eternal destiny for those who reject God’s gift of salvation is anything but heavenly.
A crucial area that unbelievers should consider is the claim that Jesus was raised from the dead and seen by hundreds of people who testified to this fact. Jesus taught that every person who has ever lived will also be raised from the dead. Believers will be raised to stand before the throne of grace, the bema, after the Rapture and before the Great Tribulation and Millennium; while unbelievers will be resurrected to stand before the Great White Throne of Judgment after the Millennium (Rev 20:11-13).
At times I wonder whether we, as Christians, spend too much time arguing about the place of the saints during the end times, and not enough time thinking about the unsaved. Admittedly there is much to consider when thinking about end times ideas, but Christians have the certainty that whatever turns out to be the actual fulfilment of the many end times prophecies, they will be with their Lord in eternity. The curse of pain, suffering, death and decay will be lifted (Rev 22:3) and they will be given the gift of immortality.
The unsaved have no such promise. Ultimately, being good and kind may bring some into God’s kingdom (Mat 25:31-46, Rev 20:12), but those who have completely rejected God’s Son, despite all His efforts to reach out to them, will be condemned (John 3:18) to the Lake of Fire and the second death (Rev 21:8).
48 Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible. (1662 – 1714), e-Sword edition.
49 Francis A. Schaeffer. The Great Evangelical Disaster (pp. 96-97). Kindle Edition.
50 J. P. Lange, Commentary of the Holy Scriptures: Revelation (New York: Scribner’s, 1872), 98, quoted in Charles Ryrie, Dispensationalism (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2007), 91
51 Anderson, Sir Robert. The Coming Prince. Chapter X.
52 Engelsma, Prof. David J. A Defense of (Reformed) Amillennialism. Standard Bearer, April 1, 1995 – December 15, 1996
53 Merrill Tenney, Interpreting Revelation (Grand Rapids: William Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1957), 146
54 Josephus, F. The Wars of the Jews. Book VII, Chapter I, Section 1
55 The Romans Destroy the Temple at Jerusalem, 70 AD, EyeWitness to History, http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com (2005).
56 Chambers, O. My Utmost for His Highest. 10th December reading.
57 Kluttz, Jeff. The Return of The King: A Prophetic Timeline of End-Time Events (p. 85). ReturningKing.com. Kindle Edition.
59 Engelsma, Prof. David J. A Defense of (Reformed) Amillennialism. Standard Bearer, April 1, 1995 – December 15, 1996