ESCAPING THE WRATH TO COME

I am publishing this chapter here from BLOOD MOON: BIBLICAL SIGNS OF THE APOCALYPSE, to reinforce and state unequivocally (hopefully to eliminate the erroneous stance many claim I take) on the RAPTURE of the Church.  Please share this with anyone who wishes to understand why the PRETRIBUTION view of the rapture is biblical, logical, and not subject to the many ad hominem arguments advanced against those who hold to it.

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ESCAPING THE WRATH TO COME

“And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy
to escape all these things that shall come to pass,
and to stand before the Son of man
.”
(Luke 21:34-36)

A REVERSAL OF FORTUNE, FOR ALMOST EVERYONE

When times are good, it is easy to forget the Master’s directive to ‘keep watch.’ On the other hand, when we live amidst the ‘worst of times,’ there is a greater likelihood we turn our thoughts to heaven and consider the proximity of Jesus Christ’s predicted return to this earth. In fact, when we find ourselves despondent about life’s prospects, it is all too easy to wish that Jesus would “just come back right away and get us out of this mess” (a mess which we ourselves likely made without much help from anyone else!)

Doug Woodward, who holds to a PreTrib view of the rapture
Doug Woodward, who holds to a PreTrib view of the rapture

Most of us are not caught up in overindulgence at the moment. That is what the old word surfeiting means. We struggle just to get by. Such is especially true for me and many of my friends who worked in the biggest and highest up, high-flying ‘high tech’ business in the U.S. (that one in Redmond, Washington). Ten years ago we had plenty of money, we drove fancy cars, and we lived in big houses. Some in their late 30s and early 40s had already retired.

Today, however, houses in my old Woodinville neighborhood have fallen in value by 50%. Virtually everyone remains ‘under water’ (that is, holding an asset worth less than what you owe). A lot of the youthful retired have had to go back to work. If you do not have any sympathy for 45-year-olds that have to go back to work, I can relate as I myself have experienced a severe change in lifestyle and struggle every month just to get by and pay the bills. Retirement? Not in this lifetime. Even Social Security may go broke in the decade ahead. That ‘safety net’ now has gaping holes. With ObamaCare striving to bring more people into a status of ‘insured’ an equal or greater number of the formerly insured are now without health insurance altogether. More people have fallen into poverty. The gap between rich and poor has widened. CEO salaries reach 300 times the pay for the average worker (comparing the U.S. to Japan—Japan’s CEOs enjoy only a 12 multiple over the pay of their average worker).   American greed (the business TV network, CNBC has a popular program by that name) has reached new heights.

Looking at the bigger picture, financial prospects are not so good. In Europe, we see governments failing. In America, state and city governments, and even the Federal Government struggle to balance the budget. [1] Protests are becoming frequent. We weathered the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement (which meant to stymie the operation of Wall Street), a protest that should have featured the ‘average Joe’ (members of the middle class), instead of today’s version of hippies and anarchists. But at least someone took to the streets and lodged a vociferous complaint.

Many predict that widespread rioting stands ready to break out. Martial Law may not far behind. Perhaps the predicted financial collapse of the world (which contributes to the coming of Antichrist) will begin soon. Regardless, most everyone would agree that we are not living in the good ol’ days any more. Almost everyone yearns for better times.

Times are indeed tough. I must confess I have had desperate thoughts many times in the past couple of years. But one of the good things about these challenging stretches: we are much more inclined to contemplate the ‘real meaning of life’ than when times are good. We do not cling to material things. Should we pray, however “Come Lord Jesus” to escape the circumstances?

GOD DESIRES TO HELP US MAKE ENDS MEET EVERYDAY

It is not that uncommon for believers in the Second Advent to have such thoughts and comment accordingly (and in their weak moments complain just a bit). All too often, we hope to escape the bad times in which we find ourselves. In our better moments, we recognize this niggling escapism does not constitute the right reason to hope for Christ’s coming. Although our personal circumstances may at times be most dire, wishing for Jesus to come back to save us, trivializes what is in essence the culmination of history. Moreover, it consists of a convenient means to a selfish end. [2]

Why do I say this?   Because when we leap to this ‘way out’ way out, we demonstrate a lack of faith. Jesus said He came that we might “have life… more abundantly” (John 10:10). That does not mean we will always have a surfeit of material goods. Neither does it mean we will only know peace and quiet. But it does promise that despite hard times, we can maintain our equanimity. Our outlook on life should remain positive because Jesus taught us to ask our Father in Heaven to provide our “daily bread.”   Likewise, God shall provide “all your need” as Paul tells the church at Philippi (Philippians 4:19). We serve a God who wants to provide for us and does not mind the daily ‘grind’ of helping us make ends meet.

Yet, this assurance remains a far cry from promising a Porsche for every garage. Indeed, perhaps the biggest heresy in Christendom during the past 50 years concerns the so-called ‘Gospel of Wealth’ which suggests all believers should prosper materially. Prosperity preachers teach we are doing something wrong if God does not bless us with wealth and health. Perhaps we have ‘unconfessed sin’ in our lives? Perhaps we ‘lack faith?’ I shudder when I hear such counsel. Indeed, I find this ‘gospel’ repugnant as well as unbiblical. Just consider the examples in the New Testament. While on earth, Jesus (and His disciples) had no more money than what Judas could carry in the common purse. The early Church shared possessions and conducted their ‘church services’ secretly in Roman catacombs and individual homes. Paul had to make tents lest he be a burden on his churches. Such outward signs do not convey great wealth amongst the brethren.

Nevertheless, these believers were living life ‘abundantly’ Being filled with the Spirit to the point of ‘bursting’ and witnessing miracles ‘left and right,’ they would not have traded their new found faith and the joy they gained for all the riches in Rome.

Consequently, it comprises neither a practical nor righteous motive hoping for the Lord’s return that we might escape our personal bad times. This should not be a part of ‘keeping watch.’

THE MEANING OF THE MILLENNIUM

Most of my readers are Pre-Millennialists. Therefore, they know what this awkward label means: It refers to the Millennium Kingdom in which Jesus Christ reigns physically on this earth for 1,000 years—just as John the Revelator predicts in the last book of the Christian Bible (if we take his words to be literally true regarding their fulfillment in space-time).

John’s discussion of this magnificent epoch stands as the only passage in the Scripture specifying the length of the Christ’s earthly Kingdom which will last literally for 1,000 years. It also seems somewhat ironic that although the term millennium is never used in the Bible, it remains the key term used to distinguish the various ways in which Protestant Christians interpret the meaning of the coming Kingdom. Eschatology, the study of last things, is distinguished by how one interprets the meaning of the millennium.

As a refresher (and for my readers that do not know), there are three protestant prophecy ‘schools of thought:’ The ‘Pre,’ ‘Post,’ and ‘A’ (pronounced ‘Ah’) Millennialists—reflecting a ‘before,’ ‘after,’ or ‘not so relevant’ perspective of when Christ comes (and what happens next) vis-à-vis the Millennium.

Today, most evangelical Christians are Pre-millennial while Amillennial best denotes ‘reformation’ Christian doctrine regarding when Jesus Christ (physically) returns to earth.[3] Interesting, Catholics are in the same camp as today’s ‘reformed theologians’—both groups do not believe in a literal millennium.

Perhaps only in the last 40 years or so have the ‘Pre’s’ have outnumbered the ‘Post’s’ and the ‘A’s.’ [4] We can thank Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth and Tim LaHaye/ Jerry Jenkins’ ‘Left Behind’ series of fiction books which fomented this modern-day ‘sea change.’ It is the Dispensational school that has made this happen.

Still, despite the fact this ‘popular’ perspective boasts a majority view, no consensus exists on this topic and the resulting reality regarding this issue could be characterized as mostly ‘rough seas’. Lots of acrimony remains between these different schools of thought.

FACING THE POSSIBILITY OF GREAT TRIBULATION

Hand-in-hand with the notion of the Millennium stands the notion of the Great Tribulation. All Millennialists (and some Christians that are not so ‘into’ the Millennium), believe there will be a final period of time in which the earth will suffer the greatest distress it has ever known. If you think times are tough now, just wait.

So does this mean that when the Last Days are ‘full on’ (and the judgments of God are about to be unleashed upon the world), we just need to ‘buck up’ and deal with the horrible pressures and catastrophes the Bible predicts will happen? Or is there something fundamentally different about these final days? As we approach the period known as ‘The Great Tribulation,’ no doubt our destiny in this scenario stands as one of the most momentous issues we could ever face. Therefore, we should study this matter in earnest.

Of course, some might argue it would be better not think about it—the less we know the better. Instead, we should assume the ‘ostrich position’ (i.e., have one’s head buried deep in the sand). Saner heads, however, would keep their heads up and their eyes peeled.[5]

Many would reply that the only responsible thing to do is consider whether we do have to go through the ‘worst of bad times.’ We must square up to the issue and ask the tough question: will believers who trust in Jesus Christ live through the ‘Tribulation’ that final seven years when literally ‘all hell breaks loose’?

Most believe this time period is equivalent to the Prophet Daniel’s final (70th out of 70) ‘weeks of years’ (totaling 490 years of prophecy related to the God’s plan for salvation of His people, the Jews). Daniel specifies that this last seven years of ‘normal’ history (in which humans apart of Jesus Christ ‘run the show’) consists of 2,520 days—that is, seven, 360-day years.

Also, it appears the second half of this period, the final 1,260 days (aka 3.5, 360-day years) will be particularly difficult. In this vein, some scholars regard this period to be equivalent to the so-called time of Jacob’s trouble: Alas! For that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob’s trouble, but he shall be saved out of it.” (Jeremiah 30:7).

THE DAY OF THE LORD—TO WHAT DOES THIS REFER?

Likewise, some scholars align the time of Jacob’s trouble with the Day of the Lord,[6] a period which begins (as discussed previously), with the appearance of Daniel’s prophesied Abomination of Desolation. Indeed, Jesus seems to be very, very specific about when the times of greatest tribulation begin. He connects it to the specific action, the ‘abomination of desolation’. In context, Jesus has supplied His disciples a listing of events that must come to pass, but advises them that those signs he has mentioned, by themselves do not constitute the end of the age. However, after the gospel has been preached throughout the world, at that specific point in time, the kickoff event takes place. It commences with the abomination of desolation:

15 When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:)

16 Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains:

17 Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house:

18 Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes.

19 And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days!

20 But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day:

21 For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.

22 And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened. (Matthew 24:15-22, emphasis added)

Recall, this Abomination constitutes the claim by the Antichrist that he alone is God—and he alone deserves worship from everyone worldwide. He speaks blasphemies beyond imagining. According to traditional conservative scholarship, not until the Antichrist proclaims himself to be God and his self-declared worthiness of worship (perhaps within the ‘Holy of Holies’ in a newly rebuilt Jewish House of Worship [7]) will we know with certitude [8] (1) who the Antichrist is and (2) we know the Great Tribulation has ‘officially’ begun. Once this occurs, scholars suggest this moment commences the countdown to Christ’s physical and visible return. Also, after this amazing event transpires, we can calculate the exact day Jesus returns.[9]

Paul makes the sequence particularly clear. He specifies that this abomination must come first, and then the Day of the Lord (aka the Day of Christ, the Day of the Wrath of the Lamb) will occur.

That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.

Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;

Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. (2 Thessalonians 2:2-4, emphasis added)

That day (the Day of the Lord) cannot happen until first there comes a falling away (an apostasy) or a departure (another scriptural way to translate the Greek word used here, apostasia. (See Appendix 2 for a detailed analysis of this discussion.) Then the ‘man of sin’ will be revealed.

From Daniel and from Revelation, we know this crucial event does not occur until half-way through the final seven years. Daniel 9:27 states, “And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.”

Therefore, the Day of the Lord, according to Paul, refers to the time AFTER the abomination of desolation—after Antichrist declares himself the only god worthy of worship and speaks great blasphemies: “And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months. And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven.” (Revelation 12:5-6).

Suppose we assume that the Abomination of Desolation (the forthcoming debut of the Antichrist) takes place sometime within the next decade or two. At that moment in time, a whole series of events commence including the issuance and enforcement of the Mark of the Beast, the appearance of God’s ‘Two Witnesses’ [10] to preach against the Antichrist, and the miraculous ability of the False Prophet to make the image of the Antichrist appear anywhere in the world. (Note: these events constitute the most overt biblical signs of the coming apocalypse).

Then God unleashes judgments against the Antichrist and those who accepted his Mark (remember our discussion on owth, a sign aka mark of a covenant). These judgments consist of the ‘Trumpet and Vial judgments’ as expressed in the language of Revelation. These judgments are so destructive that they annihilate most of the world’s population. Enormous geological processes take place that drastically reshape the topography of the world (mountains will be flattened, islands will disappear). Animals on land and fish in the sea will be virtually wiped out almost to the point of complete extinction. So the obvious question is, “Will Christians be here during this tumultuous time?”

THE TIMING OF THE RAPTURE

‘Pre-Millennialists’ have three different answers to that most pertinent and urgent question. Here we encounter the next three ‘sub-groups’ with traditional but equally awkward labels applied by those engaged in the debate. There are the ‘Pre-Tribbers,’ ‘Post-Tribbers,’ and the ‘Pre-Wrath’ folk, aka ‘somewhere-in-the-middle Tribbers.’ This terminology relates to when the rapture of the Church occurs and if so, precisely when it happens in relation to the seven year ‘tribulation period.’

Up front, we should remember that the term rapture in Latin means to ‘seize’ or ‘snatch up.’ This word rapturae is the Latin word Jerome selected to translate the Greek word harpazo when he created the Vulgate in the fourth century. [11]   1 Thessalonians 4:17 employs it, “Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up (harpazō) together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” Harpazō means “to forcibly snatch out of the way.” Paul says in I Corinthians 15:52, “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” [Emphasis added]

In other words, this event will happen faster than you can say “Hallelujah! I am going home.” Those that believe in the ‘Pre-tribulation Rapture Theory’ advocate for Christ to return secretly before the Tribulation begins and ‘snatch’ away His Church. Most Pre-Tribbers consider the rapture to be a ‘signless event’ that could happen at any time. It is therefore always imminent.

The ‘somewhere-in-the-middle Tribbers’ believe this happens after the Tribulation begins but before the actual judgments of God are loosed. That is why its adherents call it the ‘Pre-Wrath Theory’ of the rapture. Advocates of the Pre-Wrath theory believe the ‘Day of the Lord’—associated exclusively with the time of God’s wrath—comprises a particular period transpiring at the very end of the Great Tribulation (perhaps lasting two to six months).

The final group, the ‘Post-Tribbers,’ believe Christians will face martyrdom and most will be killed by the forces of the Antichrist (although some will pass through the entire Tribulation period unscathed—until the exact moment of Jesus’ return). At that moment when Jesus appears ‘in the clouds of Heaven’ believers are ‘translated’ and immediately return with Christ to judge the Antichrist and his armies in the Battle of Armageddon.

So which view is right?

We have recounted  (earlier) the story of how Lot and his family were saved from Sodom and Gomorrah’s destruction by God’s angels entering into the city, collecting the family, and sneaking out before the break of dawn. Those that advocate for the Pre-Trib view believe this represents a universal biblical principle: before God sends judgment, He delivers His people. In other words, His children do not experience His judgments. [12] At the very least, we could say He puts His people in protective custody. Better yet, we should use an even more relevant analogy: believers go into a witness protection program and are transported safely out of town altogether.

The Post-Tribbers argue Christians have always been subject to martyrdom; we who are alive at the time of the Great Tribulation should not expect special treatment. Furthermore, Post-Tribbers implicitly accuse the Pre-Tribbers of a lack of faith. We often hear them proclaim, “You are looking for an easy way out.” The implication: Pre-Tribbers are cowardly and unwilling to face the inevitable persecution in the days ahead. To Post-Tribbers, the Pre-Trib rapture constitutes the ‘great escape.’ As a Pre-Tribber myself, you might expect I would be a bit upset by these accusations. Well, perhaps a little. After overcoming those ill-advised emotions as Jesus’ disciple, the question becomes, “How should Pre-Tribbers respond to what is something of a reprimand?”

RESPONDING TO THE ‘ESCAPIST’ REBUKE

To clarify things, it is essential to distinguish between ‘human-inflicted’ malicious acts such as torture and murder (aka martyrdom) versus ‘God-inflicted’ acts of punishment as depicted in the many judgments described in Revelation. As believers, we are told to expect persecutions. Certainly, it is considered a badge of righteousness to be seen ‘worthy to be persecuted’ for the sake of Jesus Christ.

In the Book of Acts, we see this language spoken by those who are beaten and tortured for their commitment to the gospel of Christ (See Acts 5:41). The accounts are clear, however, that such persecutions and even martyrdoms were not the acts of God, but of humankind. Christ’s disciples did not blame God when they are stoned or thrown in prison by spiteful pagans. Instead, they praised God that they were found worthy to suffer for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Of course when it comes to determining who is right, the squabble between the Pre-Tribbers and the Post-Tribbers ought not to be settled solely based upon ‘logic’ but upon what the Bible teaches. Furthermore, accusations of one group targeting the other—questioning the quality of the other groups’ commitment—should have no relevance to who is right and wrong. In logic class, we learn this is an ad hominem argument. This occurs when the value of a premise is linked to a characteristic of a person. It is like saying, “You are wrong, because you have red hair!” Nevertheless, we see this type of sniping in books arguing for the Post-Tribulation point of view. Unfortunately, it continues today even among otherwise sincere Christians. The argument that Pre-Tribbers are cowardly and unwilling to face the music of the Great Tribulation and martyrdom consists in this kind of chastisement. The argument against the Pre-Trib position gets connected to the personal attribute presumed within or about that person who professes this particular point of view: (1) The Pre-Trib position (the argument) must be false because (2) the person who affirms it is unwilling to experience persecution (the pejorative attribute). But is persecution the same as the wrath of God? Of course not.

Throwing the ad hominem argument into the fray adds to the heightened vitriol. Indeed, the level of acrimony can grow quite intense, with one group speculating that the view of the other group constitutes heresy, an unforgivable foible sure to cripple the proclamation of the gospel, today and in the Great Tribulation to come. Some go so far to assert that an incorrect profession of faith on the rapture topic now will cost the believer their place in heaven for eternity! (To that I politely reply, “Balderdash!”)

Alas, we forget that Jesus said, “By this shall all [men] know that ye are my disciples, if your doctrine remains perfect on every topic.” Well, actually, he did not say that. Instead, the condition for disclosing to others that we are his disciples would be if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:35) We forget we should never directly attack a person (or persons); just the idea with which we disagree. It remains well within bounds to battle over ideas; but not so commendable to attack others personally (especially our brothers and sisters in Christ) with opposing views. Elevating this issue to the point of a curse (“You will go to Hell!”) places the accuser only small step away from burning the accused at the stake! Such behavior may have been acceptable in Geneva during the sixteenth century. And unless we wish to emulate radical Islam and cut off the heads of those we deem infidels, it would seem advisable to steer clear of this approach.

SO WILL CHRISTIANS GO THROUGH THE TRIBUTION?

What does the Bible teach? There are numerous powerful verses which appear to state plainly that true believers will be rescued from the coming judgments. One such verse is from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians: “[We are] … to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, [even] Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.” (I Thessalonians 1:10) Yet, this sounds like something that happened in the past and is not relevant to the future. Does this reinforce the view that we must pass through the Tribulation?

The key problem with the translation of the King James Version is that it incorrectly translates the Greek verb ‘rhyomai’ making it past tense. ‘Delivered’ should be ‘delivers’ (implying present progressive or even future tense). Plus, according to the Blue Letter Bible the verb means “to draw to one’s self, to rescue, to deliver.” Young’s Literal Translation of 1 Thessalonians 1:10, brings the meaning alive: “and to wait for His Son from the heavens, whom He did raise out of the dead—Jesus, who is rescuing us from the anger that is coming.” The New American Standard Version provides a similar translation: “and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.”

The Vines Dictionary of New Testament Words provides this explanation:

Here the AV [King James Authorized Version—AV] wrongly has “which delivered”  (the tense is not past); RV, “which delivereth;” the translation might well be (as in Rom 11:26), “our Deliverer,” that is, from the retributive calamities with which God will visit men at the end of the present age. From that wrath believers are to be “delivered.” (Emphasis added)

The passage employed as our epigraph for this chapter has something important to say here as well: “Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.” (Luke 21:36) The key word used in this passage is the Greek Word ‘ekpheugō.’ This term conveys “to flee out of a place” (such as prisoners escaping from prison). It does not mean “preserved through” the calamity, but being entirely removed from it. One is not removed from prison by being safeguarded within it. The context of Luke’s account strongly suggests the same thing: We are saved ‘out of’ the earth in order to “stand before the Son of Man.” We must be taken out of one place to appear in another. God does not clone and only He has the ability to be in multiple places at the same time.

Perhaps one of my favorite verses in this regard is 1 Thessalonians 5:9. I memorized it in college (as translated in the New American Standard Version) and it has stayed with me for 38 years: “For God has not destined us for wrath but to the (full) attainment of salvation for our Lord Jesus Christ.” The King James Version says: “For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Vines Dictionary explains what the word ‘peripoiēsis(obtainment) means in this context: “the act of obtaining” anything, as of salvation in its “completeness”—referencing this verse and 2 Thessalonians 2:14: “Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The connotation of the term comes across in a particularly strong way: If you have it, you have all of it. You will not be partially saved or ‘saved’ metaphorically. You will be completely saved. God intends that you receive all the possible salvation you can get. You will not be left in the lurch[13] when God pours out His judgment upon the world.

Once again, the context of 1 Thessalonians Chapter 5:1-11, clearly reinforces this same interpretation. Paul’s admonition to his audience relates to “knowing the times and the season;” they are not in the Day of the Lord as they may have been assuming before he wrote. When we consider the context, it seems clear this was the reason Paul penned this particular epistle. Paul teaches:

1But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you.

2For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.

3For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.

4But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.

5Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.

6Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.

7For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night.

8But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.

9For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ,

10Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him.

11Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do. (1 Thessalonians Chapter 5:1-11, emphasis added)

Paul conveys an explicit instruction (paraphrasing): “Everyone calm down! We cannot be in The Day of the Lord. We would know if we were. Why? We would already be with the Lord!”[14] As Paul says elsewhere, “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:8) We are to speak these words to “comfort yourselves together and edify one another.” In fact, Paul must remind them once again of this very same truth in his next letter, 2 Thessalonians (as we mentioned earlier). Clearly, the Thessalonians were obsessed with the prophecies of the Lord’s Second Coming. Apparently, matters were made worse because those who forged a letter (from Paul) made the frightening claim that all Christians were going to go through the Tribulation:

1Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him,

2That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.

3Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;

4Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.

5Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?
(2 Thessalonians 2:1-5)

Paul supplies his followers with two distinct clues as to how they can know whether they had missed the rapture. First: there must come a ‘falling away’ (which either means an apostasy leading up to the revelation of the Antichirst—the apocalyptō; or means a ‘departure’ of the force that is restraining his appearance at the present time—to be expanded upon later). Then, secondly, you will see the Antichrist reveal himself in the Temple of God, declaring himself to be God. If you witness these two things, the Tribulation has begun! The Day of the Lord has come. However, if you were found worthy to be rescued from the wrath to come and to stand before the Son of Man, you will not be here to watch this event (no doubt televised worldwide) when it happens sometime in the future. Where will you be instead? Preoccupied—talking with loved ones in Heaven. The Parousia will have taken place. We will all be together and with the LORD from thenceforth and forever. [15]

BEING KEPT FROM THE HOUR OF TRIAL

Finally, Revelation 3:10 reinforces the very same concept yet again: “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.”   The King James Version uses the word temptation to translate the Greek word peirasmos. Vines indicates that a better English word for peirasmos would be ‘trial.’ The intention would be to ‘prove something true or false,’ as the remainder of the passage describes. The point is that God does not tempt humankind; but He sometimes tries us or tests us to prove (to us, not to Himself) what He has said about humankind in His Word stands true. [16] Since this statement is made in the context of the book of Revelation, the testing that comes upon the earth will be distinct. This tribulation involves great vials of wrath. Jesus’ promise excludes His own from such ‘testing.’

To dig deeper: The promise of Revelation 3:10 was given to the church at Philadelphia (in ancient Turkey). Many scholars for the past two centuries have taught that each of the seven churches in Revelation 2-3 provide a prophecy related to seven historical periods for Christ’s church; in other words, each church represents one of seven consecutive stages in church history. The Philadelphia church is thought to represent the church which lives immediately before the Lord returns. This church was characterized by fervent evangelism and generally, orthodox teaching. The following verse, Revelation 3:11 begins: “Behold I come quickly.” Thus, the context strongly implies that the Lord comes quickly to keep this church from the hour of trail that is just around the corner (and directed to the unrepentant world at large).

EMPLOYING A BIT OF LOGIC IN THE RAPTURE’S TIMING

While I mentioned earlier the Bible and not logic should teach us the answer to the question of whether the rapture of the Church is before, during, or at the end of the Great Tribulation, it would seem appropriate nonetheless to point out two logical arguments derived from Scripture suggesting the Pre-Trib position constitutes the correct perspective.

First, there is the admonition of Jesus to watch for His coming. Many of His parables convey this sobering message. We are to be watchful and alert. However, if the coming of the Antichrist precedes the coming of the Lord—that is to say, if the rapture does not happen until the moment of the actual Second Coming (the visible return of Christ to earth at the Battle of Armageddon)—logically we should be watching for the Antichrist instead. Once the man of sin appears, we can do the math and recognize that we still have 3.5 years remaining before Jesus returns. The Antichrist’s announcement would be the ‘tripwire.’ [17]  Keeping watch is shifted from watching for the coming of the Bridegroom to watching for the coming of the Antichrist!    This may seem repugnant to my friends who affirm the Pre-wrath or Post-Trib viewpoint, but the logic remains difficult to defeat.

So is this viewpoint biblical? I hardly think so. Not only is it out of character with the Lord’s direct admonition, it is inconsistent with His statement that we “know neither the day nor the hour” of His coming. Once Antichrist appears, we will know the exact day of Christ’s return. That constitutes another logical reason implying that the rapture must precede the apocalyptō of the Antichrist.

Secondly, we are to comfort one another with the promise of His coming to deliver us from the wrath to come. If we know we must face the likelihood of martyrdom, the ‘comfort factor’ is dramatically diminished. Not only that, we would then face the fearful judgments and catastrophes that shall cause “men’s hearts to fail them for fear of what is coming upon the earth.” (Luke 21:26) This seems glaringly inconsistent with the Scripture and the nature of God’s care for His children. We should be looking forward to the return of Jesus—not dreading the coming of the Apocalypse. [18] Otherwise, our reward for studying ‘what should soon come to pass upon the earth’ would be a more thorough knowledge of how we may suffer. We might wish we were not so thoroughly informed!

IS THE RAPTURE A FEAT TOO DIFFICULT FOR GOD?

Is accomplishing the rapture such an incredible task for God? True: it transcends what we, limited by our finite minds, can comprehend. But is that a reason we should dismiss it as outside God’s ability to accomplish? I presume many believe it to be ‘non-sense’ for this reason. They wonder how could God suddenly ‘translate’ perhaps one billion bodies of the living and perhaps another two billion bodies of the dead—at the very same moment—from a corrupted (dead) or corruptible (mortal) state to an incorruptible (immortal) state. How could He do all that “in the twinkling of an eye?” Just directing the traffic alone would overload the circuits of the biggest computer we can imagine.

But then, God does not use computers to accomplish His will.

So if that challenge causes us to doubt, we should realize our problem is: “We underestimate God’s power to save.” God asks Abraham (and us) if we consider “anything too hard for the Lord?” (Genesis 18:14)   I, for one, do not wish to suggest our God is incapable of anything. He remains Elohim, the Creator, as well as Jehovah, the covenant keeper. After all, what is the rapture, but another stupendous act of creation, converting a form of matter subject to decay to another which can never die or degenerate?   Doing such things is what our God, as made known to us through the earthly life of Jesus Christ, does best. Doing the impossible is His trademark!

Finally, if we believe that God attends to every detail of our lives (each and every day of our life—which is what the scripture teaches) and He remains capable of keeping everything straight (and not becoming mixed up with what happens at all times with 7 billion people simultaneously, all the while keeping track of what is transpiring with billions more animals who He created and loves (of whose lives he remains fully aware), why would we puzzle over how God could accomplish the rapture, all in the twinkling of an eye?

Just because we cannot understand something does not make it fail when we put it to use. I do not understand the principles of aerodynamics, but I still board an airplane and it still flies through the air getting me to my destination. My understanding of the technology being employed to serve my needs has nothing to do with whether it can or cannot work. Someone smarter than me figured out exactly how it could work. I rely upon their competence.

And God is fully capable of performing ANY feat. Peter makes this very point: The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations [testing or trial], and to reserve the unjust unto the Day of Judgment to be punished.” (2 Peter 2:9, emphasis added)  The LORD knows how to deliver the godly.

Perhaps the Psalmist said it best when he exclaimed: “[Such] knowledge [is] too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot [attain] unto it.” (Psalm 139:6)

Happily, God does not rely upon our ability to comprehend His ways in order to accomplish His plan. He expressly tells us we cannot fully understand His ways. They are beyond knowing.

The Book of Job states this far more poetically that I can ever hope to express: “God thundereth marvellously with his voice; great things doeth he, which we cannot comprehend.” (Job 37:5)

ENDNOTES

[1] The Federal Government has less of a problem since its partner in crime, the Federal Reserve Bank, literally invents money and loans it to the government at interest in its self-devised form of legal larceny known as the Fractional Banking System. We the taxpayers pay the interest. The principal is never at risk. The banks invented the principal at the beginning of the ‘loan process.’ The bankers collect the interest.

[2] It is interesting how this expression is uttered more often by men than women!

[3] Neither Martin Luther nor John Calvin, the preeminent reformers of the sixteenth century had much use for the Book of Revelation. They believed Antichrist was the Pope and the Catholic Church was Mystery Babylon. That they didn’t believe in a literal millennium should not be surprising. Covenantal Theology as it is known today (J.I. Packer and R.C. Sproul, wonderful Christian authors are prime examples), remains strongly tied to strict Reformation views and consequently, Covenantal theologians often criticize those who hold to a literal Millennium.

[4] I examine these various views, what underlies them, and ultimately, how our method of interpretation eventually leads us to the most biblical perspective. See my book, Are We Living in the Last Days? for a thorough treatment of these topics.

[5] A great expression, keeping one’s eyes peeled. The web site World Wide Words explains from whence it comes to us. “It derives from an old verb pill, “to plunder”, which is the root of our modern word pillage. It came to us from the Latin root pilare, meaning “to take the hair off, pluck” (closely connected with our [word] depilate), but which also had the figurative meaning of “plunder, cheat”, almost exactly the same as the figurative meaning of our modern verbs fleece or pluck. From about the seventeenth century on, pill was commonly spelt peel and took on the sense of “to remove or strip” in the weakened sense of removing an outer covering, such as a fruit. The figurative sense of keeping alert, by removing any covering of the eye that might impede vision, seems to have appeared in the US about 1850.” See http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-kee1.htm.

[6] This phrase might refer to an even more specific period of time, perhaps days, weeks, or months, in which the final judgments of God are experienced by the inhabitants of the earth sometime within the Great Tribulation rather than being totally equivalent to the final 3.5 years. Dispensational teaching, however, typically associates the Day of the Lord specifically to the final seven years (Daniel’s 70th week), and the Age that immediately follows the conclusion of the Church Age at the rapture of the Church. It also includes the Millennium and even the time just after the 1,000 years are concluded (when the New Heavens and New Earth are created by God).

[7] This Jewish house of worship may be a rebuilt Temple or it might be a rediscovered ancient Tabernacle that is placed in the courtyard on the Temple Mount. Some scholars believe it will be either the Tabernacle of Moses, or more likely, the Tabernacle of David that served as the shelter for the Ark of the Covenant until Solomon completed his temple (circa 1004 BC) and the Ark was transferred for what was intended to be its permanent resting place. Others disagree and assert that the Third Temple will not be built after until the Messiah returns. An interesting discussion on the subject of whether or not the Temple need be fully rebuilt may be found at this location: http://heavenawaits.wordpress.com/where-does-the-abomination-of-desolation-really-stand/.

[8] Daniel indicates there will be a covenant with the many for seven years. It appears from the language used that the Antichrist confirms the covenant but breaks it halfway through its term. It is at the time when this personage breaks the covenant that we can draw a bead precisely on who he is. Whether the Antichrist is responsible for inking the origination agreement does not appear to be as clear as is his revealing (his apocalyptō).

[9] Either 1,260, or 1,290 days depending upon one’s interpretation of Daniel.

[10] Most likely these two witnesses appear ‘in the spirit of Moses and Elijah.’ As John the Baptist was Elijah who came before Jesus to fulfill the Messianic prophecy (so said Jesus), these two personages will likely be distinct human beings but preaching and working miracles in the same power and authority as these two heroic figures of the Old Testament. The two witnesses will preach against Antichrist possibly for the entire 3.5 years of the Great Tribulation until they are murdered by Antichrist. Others, like my colleagues Dene McGriff and Douglas W. Krieger (my co-authors of The Final Babylon), propose the two witnesses are (1) the Church which remains on earth during all but the last 30 days of the Tribulation period, and (2) the Jewish people who have become believers in Jesus Christ as predicted in Zechariah 12:10, “And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn..” I do not agree with my colleagues, but I find it an interesting, if not worthy theory to investigate.

[11] The Vulgate is the Latin Bible of the Catholic Church.

[12] ‘Discipline’ yes—but ‘judgment’ no.

[13] A great phrase, whose origin is from the French board game of lourche or lurch, which was similar to backgammon and was last played in the seventeenth century. Players suffered a lurch if they were left in a hopeless position from which they could not win the game. Another possible origin: The lurch held casketed bodies awaiting a funeral. It was a small ‘out building’ lying next to the Church. To be ‘left in the lurch’ would be a bad place to spend time, to be sure. An outlier one might say!

[14] Whether we are “wake” or “sleep” at this time, we shall “live together with Him.” This is analogous to the language of the Apostle’s Creed: “We believe in the resurrection of the quick and the dead”—that when Christ returns He resurrects both those living at that time and those that have already died, i.e., are asleep. We are removed from the earth to “live with Him.”

[15] Additionally, those of us that have had physical infirmities (I have an artificial left leg) will likely be checking out our new bodies. Remember that line in Isaiah, “The lame shall leap?” I plan to be doing some serious leaping! Amen and amen.

[16] In this case, the lesson is likely that despite the severe ‘testing’ humans will curse God rather than repent. See Revelation 9:20, 21.

[17] In my opinion, this is where the ‘Pre-wrath’ theory collapses. Since God’s wrath comes later in the Great Tribulation and Antichrist has already appeared at the mid-point, Pre-wrath theorists argue we will witness the Antichrist. Our blessed hope may still be three or more years away. Until he shows up, logically we would be able to allow our lamps to remain empty.

[18] See Appendix One and Two from BLOOD MOON for additional arguments for the Pre-Tribulation Rapture; the first providing a series of additional ‘logical’ arguments and the second providing a discourse on the explicit meaning of the key word, apostasia, a word according to some scholars meaning “departure,” used by Paul to imply the rapture.

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