Tag: ALL LEFT BEHIND

RAPTURE 5: DID PAUL SAY THE CHURCH WILL BE TAKEN INTO HEAVEN WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT BEFORE THE TRIBULATION?

Will believers really be taken into heaven before any trouble comes upon the world? That was my conviction for twenty-eight years. I was wrong.

Welcome to the fifth excerpt from my recent book, “ALL LEFT BEHIND: THE CASE AGAINST THE PRE-TRIBULATION RAPTURE”.

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Some believe, based on the words of Paul, that there’s coming a day before the Tribulation when the Holy Spirit will be withdrawn from the earth into heaven. We’re told by Paul that Antichrist can only be revealed to the world and do his work on the earth when the one who holds him back has been “taken out of the way” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-8). The assumption drawn from this chapter is that Paul is telling us the Spirit of God is going to be withdrawn completely, into heaven from the earth, before the “seven year tribulation” begins. And since the Spirit indwells all true believers (Ephesians 1:13-14; Romans 8:9-11) the theory goes that all believers must be taken into heaven with the Spirit, because He wouldn’t leave the Church which He indwells.

When we read this passage in 2 Thessalonians we see that it doesn’t actually say that the Holy Spirit will be taken from the earth into heaven. Neither does it say that He will be taken out of the way seven years before Antichrist is revealed. Here is what it does say:

And now you know what is holding him (Antichrist) back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way”.

Antichrist could probably have appeared many times over during the history of man, if the Holy Spirit of God not been here to prevent him, or to “hold him back”. Hitler, for example, would have been a perfect candidate for the position of Antichrist. But Antichrist’s advent must occur at “the proper time” (verse 6). That is, when God says it’s time.

Some people think that it’s the influence of Christians in the world which is preventing Antichrist from being revealed. The Church, they say, is the restraining force holding back the Antichrist. Only when Christians get raptured and “taken out of the way” can that power of lawlessness come to fruition.

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I think there’s a degree of truth in the idea that Christians hold back the forces of evil. We are, after all, “the salt of the earth”. But it seems we need a rather grandiose attitude to assume that the mighty “We” are the ones holding back the the appearance of Antichrist. We failed to hold back Hitler, and WW2 saw the deaths of tens of millions of people, including six million Jews. We failed to hold back Stalin, Pol Pott and Mao, who between them murdered over a hundred million of their own people, including Christians. And there have been innumerable other tyrants and murderers in the history of mankind. We failed to hold back the Black Death which killed a third of the population of Europe, including Christians. Furthermore, and more specifically, there is no statement in Paul’s letter or anywhere else in Scripture declaring that Christians are holding back the power of Antichrist and Satan. It’s an assumption only.

Neither did Paul say that the Holy Spirit must be taken into heaven in order to let Antichrist loose. It seems to me more likely that when the Holy Spirit is “taken out of the way” (verse 7) God will simply be removing his restraining power from a (or the) man who would fulfill Satan’s will on earth, and from the “secret power of lawlessness”. He will stop restraining the flood of evil which He constantly holds back like a dam, even now. For that He does not need to leave the earth at all.

A relevant and instructive scripture passage which reveals an important principle of Scripture is found in Romans chapter 1. Paul writes here about a people who have so turned their back on God that He literally gives them over to their sin:

…since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done” (Romans 1:28).

We sometimes wonder why the wicked prosper, and why they get away with the things they get up to. Unfortunately for them, it may be because God has handed them over to their wickedness. In this case, what man regards as success may actually be God’s judgment. It’s the worst thing that could happen to anyone, because he or she no longer has the Holy Spirit of God drawing him and calling him, and he’s even less likely to find repentance and salvation in Jesus. At that point, Satan has successfully and totally blinded him to the truth, because in effect, he wants to be blind.

This is the intention of God for the tribulation. His purpose in the Tribulation is not to unite the godly with the wicked, but to cement the division between them, and to seal the wicked in their chosen fate:

They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness” (2 Thessalonians 2:10-12).

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SEVEN YEARS-REALLY?

Second, according to several Bible passages, Antichrist will not be revealed to the world until the mid part of the Tribulation, at the time when he enters the temple and claims to be God (Matthew 24:15; 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4; Revelation 13:5-6). This, and not before, is the time when the restraining power of the Holy Spirit will be removed, mid -way through the assumed seven-year period-not before them! If believers really want to see the removal of the Holy Spirit as the event concurrent with and necessary for the rapture, they should perhaps consider themselves “mid-tribulation” believers.

Thirdly, we know the gospel will be preached during the Tribulation, and that there will be followers of Jesus, so we need to recognize that it’s not possible for the unbeliever to be regenerated without the work of the Holy Spirit:

…if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ he does not belong to Christ”… “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you” (Romans 8:9-11).

The fact is that you cannot come to Jesus-you are not saved from your sins or regenerated-without the Holy Spirit. You would not even begin to understand the things of Christ without the Holy Spirit:

The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:14).

How then can the saints during revelation become saints, hold to the testimony of Jesus Christ (Revelation 12:17) hold on to their faith through terrible persecution and a godless world and become fearless witnesses, without the Holy Spirit?

Moreover, this view of believers disappearing into heaven along with the Holy Spirit is a little selfish, isn’t it? Wouldn’t it be harsh, cold and un-loving for God to withdraw the only possible help from his Tribulation saints? The Spirit would be the only  comfort and strength available-assistance which they would surely need in order to deal with intense persecution and upheaval. According to the Pre-Tribulation theory, while the Tribulation saints are standing up to Antichrist and intense persecution the rest of us would be enjoying first class treatment and the luxury of heaven, in return for not having to stand up for the name of Jesus at all!

Finally, it’s undeniable that Paul told the believers in Thessalonica not to let anyone convince them that the day of the Lord had come, until Antichrist was revealed (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3). Jesus spoke of the same initial sign to his disciples (Matthew 24:15-21). He did not say anything like this: “Do not to worry about the Tribulation, because you will not be here when the Day of the Lord arrives”.

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RAPTURE PART 2: WHEN WILL THE WRATH OF GOD FALL ANYWAY?

FOR TWENTY-EIGHT YEARS I WAS A FIERCE PROPONENT AND DEFENDER OF THE PRE-TRIBULATION RAPTURE. NOW I HAVE A MORE REALISTIC UNDERSTANDING OF THE RAPTURE. HERE ARE CONTINUED EXCERPTS FROM MY BOOK*

(Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, by Viktor Vasnetsov, 1887).

WHEN WILL THE WRATH OF GOD FALL ANYWAY?

Many people, certain that there will be a seven year tribulation, have the impression that the first day of that seven-year period-when the ink is still wet on Antichrist’s “peace deal” document, marks the start of the outpouring of God’s wrath, which will continue for the entire period until Jesus returns physically in power and glory. Are they right? If it’s God’s wrath which the rapture is to deliver us from, as many believe, we ought to be sure about when that prophesied wrath falls. We also might ask exactly how the wrath of God will be played out in our world, because whether it’s persecution or “natural” disasters such as giant hailstones, mega-earthquakes, pestilence and stars falling from heaven, the timing of the wrath of God may be a clue to the real timing of the rapture. What certainly does come from God in Revelation are the plagues and “natural” disasters, and the release of malevolent spirits which work to fulfill his will. These clearly come from the wrath of God, because we’re told they do, and there’s a statement in Revelation to that effect.

THE SIXTH SEAL

The sixth seal opens with a “great earthquake”. There’s something very different about this seal. It’s incomparably more devastating than those before it, because it affects the very foundations of our familiar physical universe. The sun and moon turn dark, stars fall from heaven, and the sky rolls up like a scroll (verses 12-14). It is at this point, when the sixth of seven seals with all its unprecedented events has been opened, that the leaders of the earth concede or recognize the fact that the day of God’s judgment has come:

They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb. For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?’ (Revelation 6:15-17).

Is it only the sixth seal which begins the wrath of God, or was his wrath released in the previous five? Why do the “kings” of the earth only recognize and acknowledge God’s wrath upon the opening of the sixth seal? Is it because they just don’t want to face up to the fact before it, or is it because the sixth is so devastating and awesome that their spirits are finally broken? Is it perhaps because all previous seals were “business as usual” events common to the history of man, while this one is undeniably the outpouring of God’s wrath? Could it perhaps be that the previous seals were not actually the outworking of the wrath of God?

THE SEVENTH SEAL

Upon the opening of the sixth seal the heavenly bodies react in cosmic proportions, and “then” (verse 15) the kings of the earth declare to themselves that the time of God’s wrath has come. Following the sixth seal is the seventh, and I’m not trying to be funny. The seventh is opened in seven stages, each announced by trumpets. It details events which utterly devastate the earth: hail, fire, blazing mountains, the total pollution of the waters, the darkening of the sun and moon, and the final plagues on humanity.

This seventh seal, with its trumpets, is clearly an outpouring of God’s wrath. It aligns chronologically with certain prophesies in Jesus’ Olivet Discourse, as will be explained later.

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(“Death on the Pale Horse”, by Gustave Dore, 1865)

SEALS 1 TO 5: PEACE AND SAFETY?

It’s difficult for us to actually commit to the idea that people are realizing God’s wrath has come only when the sky has rolled up like a scroll, because we evangelicals have always been told that the beginning of the “seven year tribulation” marks the beginning of God’s wrath. However, we can surmise with certainty that people alive during the sixth seal aren’t coming to the realization of the arrival of God’s wrath during a time of peace and safety. Peace and safety are prescribed by pre-tribulation experts for the first half of the envisaged seven-year tribulation. They tell us that Antichrist will make a “peace deal” with Israel and its neighbors, beginning the seven year period, and that the world will think he’s a great man of peace and world order. Indeed, Paul did say, “When people are saying ‘peace and safety’, destruction will come on them suddenly” (1 Thessalonians 5:3).

WILL THERE BE SEVEN YEARS OF WRATH?

But wait a minute. What about those four horsemen of the first four seals? Aren’t they riding out to conquer, to take peace from the earth, and to bring pestilence, death and Hades? How can they take peace from the earth at the start of the “seven year” period if Antichrist is bringing peace to the world at that time?

…and he shall magnify himself in his heart, and by peace shall destroy many (Daniel 8:25 KJV).

Also, we’re told by Paul that Antichrist will be revealed when he enters the temple mount and not before. Why would people be hailing him as the great peacemaker before this temple appearance, since Paul tells us that his revealing occurs when he enters the temple? Granted, he may be at work making peace before the temple mount incident but not revealed in his true colors until that point. However, surely any saints holding to the testimony of Jesus at that time (Revelation 12:17) who have taken the trouble to read their Bibles and all the books on the rapture, and all the “Where We Have Gone” notes, would see this peacemaker and know-before the temple appearance-that he’s Antichrist, before Paul said they could know. They would recognize him before Paul said he could be recognized.

Antichrist’s revealing at the temple mount is commonly agreed to be three and a half years before the end of the tribulation. It’s at this point that “great distress” begins, according to Paul and Jesus. This means that all those terrible events associated with tribulation times, and the seven seals, cannot have yet begun. If they had, there would be no “peace”, particularly since the first seal unleashes a rider bent on conquest (Revelation 6:2). The beginning of “great distress” as described by Jesus and Paul would not be noticed if great distress were already taking place on the earth.

The second rider is given power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other (7:4). How can the second rider taking peace from the earth square with Antichrist being viewed as a man of peace and safety, if the second rider takes that peace away before the revealing of Antichrist, three and a half years before the physical and glorious return of Jesus? How can these two conditions-peace and lack of peace-exist at the same time?

One answer may be that these four horsemen have been at large throughout history, and get temporarily “paused” by Antichrist. The other option is that they will only be at large after the revealing of Antichrist, who himself will bring devastation to the earth, quite apart from, or in conjunction with, what the second rider brings. Is he perhaps the manifestation of the work of the first two riders? Are these events concurrent? Is this why Revelation repeats a time period of three and a half years?

WHEN WILL THE DAY OF THE LORD BEGIN?

The day of the Lord is an important indicator of the onset of God’s wrath on the earth, in fact the two are perhaps synonymous. Paul, discussing “the day of the Lord” in his second letter to the Thessalonians gives as the first signs of its arrival a rebellion of some kind, and the revealing of Antichrist:

Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day (the day of the Lord) will not come, until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-4).

The day of the Lord cannot begin, says Paul, until after Antichrist is revealed, at the mid-point of that proposed seven-year period. Remember in conjunction with this that the sixth seal is opened before the kings of the earth recognize that the wrath of God has come. Surely, if the world had suffered a huge earthquake before the revealing of Antichrist, or if the stars had already fallen from heaven and the sky had rolled up, these would have been far more immediate and tangible signs for Paul to refer to as his onset of the day of the Lord? Knowledge of such disasters was not introduced as new revelation in later times by John, because Jesus spoke of them during his earthly ministry, and they’re mentioned in Old Testament prophesies.

No, those things will not yet have happened at the point Antichrist is suddenly revealed. All that will have happened, besides perhaps the increasing persecution of believers, is a rebellion. People will not yet have been begging the mountains to fall on them. Therefore the wrath of God has not yet fallen in the form of cataclysmic events.

*THIS POST IS AN EXCERPT FROM MY BOOK, “ALL LEFT BEHIND: THE CASE AGAINST THE PRE-TRIBULATION RAPTURE”, BY NICHOLAS FISHER, AVAILABLE ON AMAZON IN PAPER-BACK AND E-BOOK. PART 3 WILL APPEAR SOON.

UNRAVELING THE PRE-TRIB. RAPTURE

FOR TWENTY-EIGHT YEARS I WAS A FIERCE PROPONENT AND DEFENDER OF THE “PRE-TRIBULATION RAPTURE”, UNTIL MY EYES WERE OPENED. WAKE UP NOW, CHRISTIAN BELIEVER, BECAUSE MANY OF US HAVE BEEN FOLLOWING FAULTY THEOLOGY…!

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We as believers all want to be “snatched up” to heaven before things get too rough on planet earth. The reality, however, is that things have been “too rough” for many millions of believers around the world for centuries, including this present one. In seeking clarity of conviction upon my twenty-eighth year of Bible-believing Christianity, at the time of the ascent of ISIS in the Middle-East, I came to the realization that what I had been taught and convinced of was not really supported by deep, honest Bible study.

Here then is a first installment of what I’ve discovered for myself- an excerpt from my book published in paperback and electronic form (see details at the bottom of this post*).

CHAPTER 2: NOT APPOINTED TO WRATH?

Usually the first subject to come up in any discussion on the timing of the rapture is the wrath of God. The whole idea of there being a wrathful God is very much out of fashion in our “post-truth”, relativistic age; in our easy-living and supposedly “tolerant” Western culture. But no true Bible believer can doubt that there is coming, sooner or later, a time of wrath on sinful mankind, when our Creator will finally put the brakes on all rebellion and godlessness in the human realm, and in the spiritual realm also. Such wrath will fall on the world during a time the Bible calls “The day of the Lord”. And since the day of the Lord is normally equated with the entire tribulation among Christians and with the entirety of a seven year period of prophesied events, the obvious expectation to many people is that believers will not be around during that time to suffer any of that wrath. Since Christians are forgiven of their sins and are promised eternal life, they will surely not be the recipients of God’s wrath. But does the tribulation-a specific time of God’s intervention on the earth just before the visible return of Jesus Christ-automatically mean wrath for every mortal living at the time?

The most common defense of the pre-tribulation rapture position is taken from Paul’s phrase, “God has not appointed us to wrath” (1 Thessalonians 5:9). Adherents are most likely to quote this verse as what they believe to be an unarguable, clinching piece of Biblical evidence that believers will be taken away before the beginning of the tribulation: one which should silence any opposition. God, being a God of love, “has not appointed us to wrath”, and so he will obviously be taking us to heaven before the tribulation-the time of trouble and distress- begins.

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Evangelical end-times prophecy interpretation almost unanimously calls for a seven year period of upheaval and trouble world-wide. During this time the “man of sin” or “man of lawlessness”, also known as “Antichrist”, will persecute and generally rage against God and anyone “left behind” by the rapture, so  people assume that the entirety of this coming seven year period entails an outpouring of God’s wrath from beginning to end and in all corners of the world, starting from the very first minute. Therefore, they say, people who get “left behind” by the pre-tribulation rapture are either nominal believers, or folk who knew something about the gospel of Jesus but failed to respond to it in time for the rapture, or others who just didn’t hear the gospel before it was too late.

It’s true that Paul was discussing end-times events with the Thessalonians when he wrote that God has not appointed us to wrath, but let’s put this phrase from Paul’s letter into its proper context. The complete verse which contains this much-used phrase reads thus:

For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath, but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ “ (1 Thessalonians 5:9).

In this verse Paul was contrasting the wrath of God with salvation-not announcing a pre-tribulation rapture.

Before we consider the slightly wider context of the passage, let’s look at something Jesus himself said which is similar but very instructive:

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him” (John 3:36).

Jesus, using the same Greek word translated “wrath” as the one Paul used in his letter to the Thessalonians, was stating that salvation from sin is found in the Son of God, but anyone who rejects that salvation is already permanently under the wrath of God. The wrath Jesus was speaking of was eternal judgment and separation from God, not the onslaught of suffering in this life or of tribulation events.

Now let’s go back to Paul’s letter. In chapter 4 Paul begins to discuss the coming of the Lord. He wants the church to have hope in seeing their loved ones in the Lord again, and writes about how Jesus will “come down from heaven”. At that point the dead will be resurrected, then living believers will be changed and will meet Jesus and their risen loved ones in the clouds. Paul notes that those in the Thessalonian church are not in the same darkness as unbelievers, and that therefore the day of the Lord would not come upon them like a thief (verse 4). Then comes the much-misused verse:

For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (verse 9).

Paul is  contrasting wrath with salvation from sin, just as Jesus was. That’s the primary focus.

In a similar way, Paul told the Ephesian church that when they were “dead in trespasses and sins” in their un-saved life, and when they were following “the prince of the power of the air”, they were “children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3 ESV). In contrast, he said, God “made us alive together with Christ” because of his mercy (verse 4).

There’s no discussion of end-times events here, and the wrath of God’s tribulation did not fall in the first century. The intended point is the contrast between being saved from our sin nature, and remaining an object of wrath. Again, the Greek word translated “wrath” in this Ephesians verse is the same as that used in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians.

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Yes, Paul’s subject in Thessalonians concerns being ready for the day of the Lord”, but his way of being ready and of avoiding God’s wrath is salvation from sin through faith in Jesus Christ. If we put this much-used phrase into its proper context we see that Paul was contrasting wrath with salvation from sin-not announcing a pre-tribulation rapture. People can be prepared for the day of the Lord by obtaining salvation in Jesus. In this way, in this eternal sense, true believers are delivered from God’s wrath, and will never suffer it.

Bad events in the lives of true believers are never from the wrath of God, and never will be. They’re just evidence that we’re all human, and subject to the consequences of the Fall, of the actions of others and our own mistakes. In fact, believers are free of God’s wrath even if they lose their lives violently at the hands of men. That’s why Jesus said:

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul…” (Matthew 10:28).

Antichrist will persecute and kill “saints” during the tribulation, according to Revelation, but this will not be from the wrath of God-it will be the result of man’s wrath and of the devil. No-one but God has any power over the souls of his saints.

Consider the Thessalonian believers of the first century. They died, did they not? They’ve been dead for almost two thousand years, and they didn’t get raptured while alive. But in their deaths they did not, and will not, suffer the wrath of God, but had already found eternal salvation through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

PERSECUTION DOES NOT COME FROM THE WRATH OF GOD. SUFFERING, EVEN IN REVELATION, DOES NOT ALWAYS COME FROM THE WRATH OF GOD

God’s will is not, and never has been, to always deliver us from suffering in this world. In the opening chapter I mentioned the suffering inflicted on many Christians by ISIS in Middle Eastern countries. You can study the history of the Church and find countless examples of suffering inflicted on Christians, including death and torture. These people were not under the wrath of God, they were under the wrath of man, and no doubt sometimes the wrath of Satan. Even in our present day there are many believers around the world in prison and under threat from those who hate the gospel of Jesus. Jesus warned his disciples this would happen:

They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service (John16:2KJV).
God’s plan is to deliver us from the eternal consequence of sin. This consequence is eternal separation from him, which is far worse than temporary physical suffering, and Christians have been persecuted throughout history. Not only that, but Christians have also been among the victims of plague, war, famine, natural disasters, sickness and the outcome of the Fall, just as non-believers have, and will continue to be subject to these things until the resurrection and the rapture occur.

Whatever you think of those tribulation saints found in the book of Revelation, living through the time of tribulation, it’s important to see that even though they’re God’s people, they will be persecuted and martyred (Revelation 12:17; 20:4). However, persecution and martyrdom do not come from the wrath of God: far from it. In fact, those martyred during the tribulation will be considered to be blessed, not cursed:

Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on” (Revelation 13:12-13. See also 14:12 and 20:4).
It seems abhorrent to us in the West to consider that God would allow his people to suffer persecution, but unfortunately, that’s the history of the Church, the condition of many of our brothers and sisters around the world today, and the testimony of scripture.

*THIS POST IS AN EXCERPT FROM MY BOOK, “ALL LEFT BEHIND: THE CASE AGAINST THE PRE-TRIBULATION RAPTURE”, BY NICHOLAS FISHER, AVAILABLE ON AMAZON, PAPER-BACK AND E-BOOK. THE NEXT EXCERPT WILL CONTINUE FROM THIS POINT.