Tag: THE RAPTURE OF THE CHURCH

DOES JESUS’ “GATES OF HELL” QUOTE PROVE A PRE-TRIB. RAPTURE? (RAPTURE 26)

Hi everyone. And when I say “everyone” I’m well aware that only a very small number of people are the tiniest bit interested in the rapture of the Church. And only a tiny fraction of that tiny fraction is the slightest bit interested in asking whether their dearly-held pre-tribulation rapture  is a valid view. However, undaunted, I plow on with my critical expose of this teaching, because, having once been a pre-trib. believer myself, I can see how dangerous and myopic it is. More on that at a later date. Here, in an uncharacteristically short post, is excerpt twenty-six of my book on the rapture. 

Jesus, talking about the Church, said that “the gates of Hades (‘hell’ in KJV) will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18). The modern claim in support of a pre-tribulation rapture says that since we know Antichrist will overcome saints on the earth during the tribulation, according to Daniel 8:12 and Revelation 13:7, the saints of Revelation cannot be the Church, because Jesus said that the gates of hell will not overcome the Church. Therefore the Church, it is claimed, must be in heaven at that time. 

Think about what will happen to the saints alive during those trying times in Revelation. They will be persecuted, and some or many of them will be killed. So what’s new? Thousands or even millions of Christians have been persecuted and killed for their faith over the centuries since the time of Jesus, and the opposition to the Church goes on today. So either Jesus was wrong to make this statement that the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church, or persecution and the martyrdom of saints is not the gates of hell prevailing against the Church! Jesus said to his original disciples, and so to us:

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

The persecution of the believer is not by any means a victory of Satan or his minions. In fact, those who “hold to the testimony of Jesus” and are persecuted in Revelation are anything but defeated. Even those who will be killed in this persecution will not have been “prevailed” against, in fact, quite the opposite. At the beginning of the reign of Antichrist, we read the following:

Then I heard a voice from heaven say, ‘Write, Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on’” (Revelation 14: 13).

The Church, consisting of all true believers of all time, will not be conquered, even in the physical death of its members, but will be raised to life, and will reign with Christ for a thousand years (20:4). The Church is an entity which cannot be defeated or harmed, no matter how much it is opposed or persecuted. The Bride of Christ is eternally secure, and the overcoming of the saints’ temporal earthly existence has no effect on her status at all. 

RAPTURE 22: THE FIRST RESURRECTION

I was a pre-tribulation believer and proponent for twenty-eight years. Therefore I am, I  believe, well qualified to critique this mistaken position. Open your minds to reality, dear Christian brothers and sisters…

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Today’s excerpt from my book* is taken from chapter 14. The chapter is rather long, so today’s post contains a part and the rest will appear next week.

Paul, writing primarily about the resurrection of Jesus Christ, wrote that the dead will be raised “imperishable”, and that “we will all be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51). He gave us more detail of these events in his letter to the Thessalonians. Here he made clear that the resurrection will occur first, and then, “after that” those who are still alive will be taken up to meet the resurrected and the Lord in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). Therefore, if the rapture were to occur before the tribulation, the resurrection would have to also occur before the tribulation. Conversely, of course, if the resurrection were to be at some time later, say, during or after the tribulation, then the rapture would have to be even later than that. So is it possible to pinpoint the time of the resurrection in relation to the tribulation using scripture?

Pre-tribulation believers have to assert that the resurrection will be in stages, because when we read of a resurrection of martyred believers at the end of the tribulation, occurring after the victorious return of Jesus Christ to the earth, it is called in Revelation, “The first resurrection” (Revelation 20:5). There are only two resurrections in total, according to Revelation, and John informs us that if you miss the first resurrection, there’s a long wait until the second:

The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended” (verse 5).

If it were to be the first “first” resurrection (intentional repeat) in which martyrs of Revelation are raised in chapter 20, then the rapture has to be at the end of the tribulation. So pre-tribulation theory has no choice but to say that the resurrection is in stages, that the resurrection of the martyrs is a second or even a third stage, and that the first stage, taking place with the rapture, occurred at least seven years earlier than chapter 20. Are pre-tribulation believers correct in invoking stages for the first resurrection? Or instead, could this resurrection of martyred believers in Revelation chapter 20, labeled by John “the first resurrection” actually be the same event as the resurrection Paul talked about to Corinthians and Thessalonians, which he associated with the rapture?

There’s no doubt that only the martyred are mentioned at this point in Revelation, giving the distinct impression that they’re the last ones left to be raised, and other believers must have been raised at some time before this. However, the fact that they’re the only ones mentioned here doesn’t exclude the possibility that their resurrection is actually just a featured detail; a part of the simultaneous resurrection of all believers. In that case the focus here, as it has been for several chapters of Revelation, is the persecution of all ages under the Harlot, and more specifically during the tribulation, where those living through it- the “saints who hold to the testimony to Jesus”-have been harassed and persecuted by the Beast. In this case their resurrection is most relevant to the account of tribulation events, and so the one in focus at this point.

WHERE ARE THE OTHER STAGES OF RESURRECTION?

Even though Paul had revealed the “mystery” of Christ’s return; the resurrection and the rapture, many years before the writing of Revelation, there’s no other reference in Revelation to the first resurrection before this one in chapter 20. Why not? It’s not at the beginning, or in any of the letters to the churches, or in the account of John being taken up to heaven. There’s no mention in heaven of resurrection before any seals are opened, or during or after them, until this talk of the “first” resurrection in chapter 20, after Christ’s return with his angels in chapter 19.

Verse 4 of chapter twenty, in which we see the martyrs raised, and before the martyrs are mentioned, speaks of “thrones, on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge”. We normally associate judgment with the physical return of Jesus to the earth. Indeed, how can anyone be judged without him? We, even as Christians, are going to receive a form of judgment, without condemnation (2 Corinthians 5:10 with Romans 8:1). So if the “judgment seat of Christ” is going to occur at the time of the resurrection of the martyrs, either the resurrection of the martyrs is a part of the general resurrection occurring simultaneously, or if the rapture occurred years earlier, the raptured have had to wait seven years to by judged. The other unlikely alternative is that Christ keeps getting out his judgment seat for each proposed phase of the resurrection. Why are seats of judgment being brought into view now for the first time in chapter 20? There’s no mention anywhere of any judgment occurring seven years before or at any previous point in Revelation.

Note, again, what Paul didn’t say to the Thessalonians or the Corinthians in the very scriptures we use as evidence of the resurrection and the rapture. He didn’t say, “some” of the dead will be raised imperishable (1 Corinthians 15:52). He didn’t say that those who are “ready” for the rapture will be taken and the others left. He didn’t say “some” of the dead will rise first and the rest later (1 Thessalonians 4:16). He said nothing in these passages about a two or three-staged resurrection, or a two-staged rapture, or for that matter a two or three-staged return of Jesus.

DANIEL’S RESURRECTION

Daniel’s prophetic book gives us an early, Old Testament glimpse of the resurrection. Chapter 11 first foretells some narrative of military and political struggles in the Middle-East in a chronological order, and then, by the end of chapter 11, we’re brought all the way up to the actual time and location of last-days tribulation events. There we learn a little about the movement of Antichrist and his forces in the Middle East.

Chapter 12 continues the order of events Daniel was shown, speaking of a time of “great distress” for the nation of Israel. This description closely resembles Jesus’ remarks in his Olivet Discourse, in which he speaks of the appearance of Antichrist, and the time of “great distress”, unequaled at no time past or future (Matthew 24:15-22). It also evokes Paul’s description of the time of Antichrist’s revealing which will release all sorts of evil on the world (2 Thessalonians 2).

It’s at the end of the succession of events Daniel is told about, and not at the beginning, that the angel talking to him speaks of the resurrection. First comes the warning of “a time of great distress, such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then”. Then the resurrection is described:

Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2).

*ALL LEFT BEHIND: THE CASE AGAINST THE PRE-TRIBULATION RAPTURE”, by Nicholas Fisher, available on Amazon.

RAPTURE 15(a): THE BRIDE

The “wedding supper of the Lamb”, announced in Revelation chapter 19, is believed to be a love-feast involving Jesus Christ and his bride, the raptured Church.  The rapture of the Church is commonly considered to be the calling of Christ’s bride. To this point, I agree. However, pre-tribulation rapture believers are convinced this love feast will occur in heaven while the tribulation is playing out on the earth. They say that an early rapture mirrors betrothal rites and ceremonies in ancient Jewish culture. Are these beliefs really supported in Scripture?

Welcome to the latest excerpt from my book* This subject, the Bride of Christ, as it relates to the rapture, is in two parts. The second part (b) will probably appear next week.

THE IMMINENT COMING

The concept of “imminence”, which I covered in an earlier post, is vital to the theory that Christ will call his bride into heaven before the tribulation. Proponents quote Jesus from the Olivet Discourse, when he said:

No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36)

PT believers claim that this and other similar phrases are directly related to the ancient custom of the groom suddenly and unexpectedly showing up to claim his bride, and so support a pre-tribulation rapture. Instead, as I demonstrated when discussing imminence, the above quote and others like it were actually said for the benefit of the very people pre-tribulationists claim will be left behind to live through the tribulation.

TEN VIRGINS

One passage of scripture used to support the idea that ancient Jewish marriage rites prefigure a pre-tribulation rapture is found towards the end of the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 25:1-13). Here Jesus tells the well-known parable of ten virgins who were betrothed, and expecting the groom to come and take them in marriage. Five were ready for the groom when he came, but five were foolish and were not ready. The belief is that the “ready” virgins who went with the groom represent people who will be ready for the rapture before tribulation, and so are taken by Jesus Christ into heaven. The foolish five represent those not ready, and so are left behind.

Upon a reading of the whole passage, we can see that this parable doesn’t work for the pre-tribulation rapture model, because once the ready virgins were taken to the marriage feast, said Jesus, “…the door was shut” (verse 10). The door was not just shut for seven years, but shut permanently. The groom said to those left behind, now on the other side, “I do not know you” (verse 12). Here is a complete severance of those left behind by the groom: they were rejected forever.

In contrast, as demonstrated even in a certain series of successful books and movies based on a pre-tribulation rapture, Scripture says that there will be believers, or ”saints” on the earth during the tribulation, who will be resurrected if killed, or “gathered” by the angels when Christ returns to the earth:

Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring–those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus (Revelation 12:17).

These saints clearly have not been rejected. Are these believers, who remain faithful to Jesus against the forces of evil, to be left out of the marriage supper? Are they not wedded to Christ? If not, how can they receive eternal life? Can they be saved and faithful followers of Jesus and yet not be a part of the bride of Christ?

This very final-sounding remark of the groom to the five virgins he leaves behind, “I do not know you” is reminiscent of the words of Jesus when he warned that those who don’t do his will are going to get a severe shock when they expect to enter the kingdom of heaven but can’t:

I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:22-23 ESV).

When the five virgins who were “ready” went with the groom to the wedding feast in Jesus’ parable, they were the last to go. Yet in the book of Revelation we find that the gospel is preached throughout the world even during the tribulation, and there will be many saints who “hold to the testimony of Jesus and obey his commandments”. The calling and gathering of believers in the day of the Lord will come when he sends out his angels to gather his elect, at the end of the tribulation. At the end of the virgins parable Jesus Christ again gives this warning:

Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:13).

If the five wise virgins going with the groom symbolize a pre-tribulation rapture, we Church-age and good rapture-candidate believers are presumably the “virgins” being told to be ready in this Olivet allegory. But the same warning to be ready was also given just after a description of Christ’s glorious return in power and glory, so that about that very day-the day of Christ’s physical appearing for all the world to see,  Jesus said:

But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son…” (Matthew 24:36).

The warning to be ready for the groom in the virgin parable matches the warning to be ready for the glorious, visible return of Christ.

Jesus continued from the above warning to be ready for his coming, reminding his disciples of the people who died in the Flood of Noah’s time (Matthew 24:37-39). He said:

Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (verse 42).

The Church is, indeed, the bride of Christ. But the teaching that Christ will take his bride home before the tribulation is unfounded. Even if we accept the claim that ancient Jewish marriage customs do foreshadow Christ’s coming for his Church, there’s still no Biblical basis to demand that this calling must be before the tribulation begins, unless we use circular reasoning. It’s the belief that tribulation events will be clearly seen from the start of a seven year period, which then claims that the groom will appear without warning. But as we’ve seen, Jesus even warned those around on the earth during the tribulation that he will come without warning.

REPLACEMENT THEOLOGY?

Remember that after five wise virgins were called by the groom to the marriage feast in Jesus’ parable, the door was shut and nobody else was allowed in to the wedding. Indeed, the groom, representing Christ, said to those outside, “I do not know you” (Matthew 25:12 ESV). If the Olivet Discourse is mainly for Jews, and the marriage rites are those for Jewish wedding ceremonies, why is it that, according to pre-tribulation thinking, the wedding supper is excluding the “elect” gathered by angels, and seen by pre-tibulation teachers as the Jewish remnant? Isn’t this some sort of replacement theology?

We aren’t left without other scripture to guide us on the subject of the wedding and wedding feast. Earlier in Matthew’s gospel we read a lengthy section in which Jesus addressed the chief priests and elders who hated him (Matthew 21:23). This discussion leads to the Parable of the Wedding Banquet (Matthew 22:1-14).The king, snubbed by those representing unbelieving Jews, proceeds to invites any who will come. Those who respond represent, of course, Gentiles. But there are also Jewish believers, which must include at the very least Christ’s original eleven, and all his followers of the first century including Paul: all who will “come”. There’s no separate arrangement for different groups of guests: there is one wedding for all.

Why is it that the “bride” of Christ in Revelation is generally considered to be the Gentile Church, but the Jewish remnant is not, when Jews were the first to be invited to the wedding? Why would we think that the Church would be present at Christ’s wedding but not the remnant, nor the “elect” who are gathered at the second coming of Christ?

As I wrote in chapter five of my book, pre-tribulation teachers have to say that most of the content of the Olivet Discourse is intended for a Jewish believing remnant who will be around during the tribulation while the Church is in heaven, because obviously those who would see the events of the tribulation which Jesus was describing could not have been taken in a pre-tribulation rapture. Yet it was during that same discourse and to those same believers that Jesus said the day and hour, while clearly coming, would be unknown:

Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door” (Matthew 24:33).

This “right at the door” phrase is evocative of the marriage custom, claimed by pre-tribulationists, of the groom coming to the door of the bride to take her with him, and it’s placed immediately before the glorious appearing of Jesus Christ to the whole world. The observers Jesus is addressing would have to first see “all these things” (verse 33). “These things” are the very things which pre-tribulationists tell us we in the Church cannot see.

Then Jesus said:

No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36) and;

Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come” (Matthew 24:42).

*ALL LEFT BEHIND:THE CASE AGAINST THE PRE-TRIBULATION RAPTURE, by Nicholas Fisher, available on Amazon.

RAPTURE 14: THE ELECT

Who are the “elect” gathered by Jesus Christ and his angels, at the end of the tribulation?

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Here’s excerpt 14 from my book on the rapture. I’m sorry that this is a pretty long post again, so please scroll down the subtitles if you need to, to at least get the gist of it. I will, as promised, get around to the subject of the Bride of Christ very soon. Today’s post pertains to the Bride.

WHO ARE THE ELECT?

During his Olivet Discourse Jesus Christ said that in his future physical return for all the world to see, he will command angels to gather his “elect” from the “four winds”. This gathering of the elect, whoever they are, is generally recognized to be at the end of the Tribulation:

They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other (Matthew 24: 30b-31).

THE PRE-TRIBULATION VIEW

So just who are the “elect” Jesus was speaking of? They’re being gathered at the end of the tribulation, so it’s a significant question, because if it’s the Church, then the rapture cannot be before the tribulation. Teachers who hold to the pre-tribulation rapture are adamant that the elect in this passage cannot be the Church, but instead are an elite band of Jews, chosen and anointed by God to evangelize the world during the Tribulation. Jesus was speaking to Jews at the time, they claim, and believers who were previously rapture-ready have already gone to heaven. So the “elect” Jesus referred to must be Jews, according to the prevailing view in the evangelical world.  But does this assertion stand up to close scrutiny?

My Zondervan ESV Study Bible here defines “elect” as “the people of God”, and my “Strongs” Concordance (see chapter 6 note 1 of my book) states that the Greek word translated “elect” most often means “chosen” or “chosen one”. It can also mean “election”; “choice”; “selection” or “chosen”. There is no other qualifying term used by Jesus.

Given these definitions alone, apart from a single individual being specifically chosen for something, the word used in the Olivet Discourse could possibly be referring to a specific group of believers such as a remnant of Jews, but it could also be speaking of believers in general, since all believers, whether Jew or Gentile, are “chosen”. So we aren’t any clearer on the matter than we were, except to say that the assertion that the “elect” spoken of in the Olivet Discourse is a Jewish remnant only, is an assumption at best. Perhaps we can gain some insight by looking at other uses of the word in the New Testament.

Paul certainly used the word “elect” to refer to a remnant of Jews, in Romans 11 verses 6 and 7. Does this confirm the pre-tribulation view? No, because there’s no indication in Romans chapter 11 that only Jews can be the “elect” or the benefactors of election: God can and does “choose” from all people groups and nations. Not only that, but the same Greek word translated “elect” is used to describe Gentile believers.

THE APOSTLE TO THE GENTILES

Paul wrote to Timothy:

I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory (2 Timothy 2:10).

Who was Paul referring to? Who was he calling the elect? If we read the context of the letter we see no direct reference to Jewish believers or a remnant of Jews. And who was Paul “enduring” for? Was it just for Jews? Paul himself gives us the answer in another letter:

For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles… “Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ (Ephesians 3:1 and 8).

When Paul wrote to Timothy that he endured everything for the sake of the elect, he was in a Roman prison, and suffering, as he said himself, “for the sake of you Gentiles”. And we know, from the book of Acts, that Paul not only suffered as a result of how the Jews persecuted him, but how the unbelieving Gentiles treated him. In fact, when the Jews opposed Paul and became abusive:

He shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, ‘Your blood be on your own heads! I am clear of my responsibility. From now on I will go to the Gentiles’” (Acts 18:5-6).

In the book of Romans Paul was addressing Gentiles in the same passage which we noted above, when speaking about a remnant of Jews:

I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry (Romans 11:13).

Paul’s “enduring” message was echoed in his letter to the Colossians. This statement clarifies for us who he was enduring for:

Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church” (Colossians 1:24).

PAUL-SUFFERING FOR THE ELECT

Paul is speaking of suffering for the Church. So when Paul told Timothy that he endured everything for the sake of the elect, it seem pretty clear that he was speaking of the Church, and not simply a Jewish remnant. Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles. While he must have suffered for the sake of Jewish believers also, he stated plainly that he was suffering for the Church. It’s clear then that when he said he was “enduring” for the sake of the elect (2 Timothy 2:10) he saw the entire Church-Gentiles and Jews and not just a Jewish remnant, as the elect. The Church was and is the body of people who would become heirs of salvation through Jesus Christ, whether Jew or Gentile. They were and are the elect.

THE CHOSEN ARE THE ELECT

Further, the Greek word translated “elect” is at times translated “chosen” by some Bible versions. For example, in Romans chapter 8, the passage frequently used by Gentile Christians as encouragement that nothing can separate us from the love of God, the NIV tells us that Paul asks:

Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies” (Romans 8:33 NIV).

Most translations, such as the KJV, use the word “elect” in place of “chosen” in this verse. In this case, Paul’s encouragement which we regularly and rightly apply to ourselves, is directed to the elect. Therefore we Gentiles, along with Jewish believers; we members of Christ’s body, the Church, are the elect:

Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth” (KJV).

It would be a tough job indeed to convince a majority of Christian ministers and Bible teachers that Romans chapter 8 is only addressing a remnant of Jews and not Gentile saints. Therefore, Paul is calling the Church “God’s elect”.

To the Colossians, indisputably a predominantly Gentile church (1:27; 2:13) Paul wrote the following:

Put on, then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts…” (Colossians 3:12 ESV).

The Greek word Paul used here, translated “chosen” is the same as that translated “elect” in the Matthew 24 passage. It would be a mistake to miss the fact that the very same Greek word Jesus used to describe the angels gathering the elect from the four corners of the earth (Matthew 24:31) is used by Paul in the verse we looked at from Romans chapter 8. It’s also the same word used to describe the remnant in Romans 9:11 and 11:28, because the Jewish remnant is a part of that elect.

PETER AND THE ELECT

Peter’s first letter begins by addressing “God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia Cappadocia…” and so on. It would be easy to assume that Peter, a Jew, was addressing Jews in this letter, because Jews were scattered throughout the known world even then. But there are several clues to the contrary. For example, Peter wrote:

Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God (1 Peter 2:10 NIV).

The sacrifice of Jesus opened wide the door of inclusion of Gentiles into God’s kingdom. The people of God were scattered throughout the known world. Not only had these believers as Gentiles become people of God, but they had been “chosen”. Peter used the same Greek word to say this as the word Jesus used, translated “elect” in the Olivet Discourse:

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious… (1 Peter 2:4 ESV);

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession (1 Peter 2:9).

There is unity of application of this word. The elect includes not only a remnant of Jews, but all benefactors of God’s salvation, including Gentile Christians.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, the assertion that Jesus Christ in Matthew chapter 24 was speaking of Jews only when he referred to the gathering of the elect at the end of the Tribulation is unfounded. It’s an assumption built on other assumptions, including the conviction that the Church will be taken to heaven even before the Tribulation begins, and that the prophecies of Matthew chapter 24 are for Jews only. This is circular reasoning. Instead, Jesus can be just as confidently said to be speaking of the entirety of the elect: both Jewish and Gentile believers, the Church.

Certainly, many of the prophecies are direct warnings to Jews, particularly in relation to the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. But we must ask if the tribulation is going to affect Jews only. Is it not going to affect the entire world? Yes, it is, in which case, the verse about the angels gathering God’s elect from the four winds-literally from all over the world-can certainly apply to people other than Jews only.

People will come to salvation during the Tribulation (Revelation 14:6) and they will “hold to the testimony of Jesus”. The fullness of the Gentiles will not be completely grafted into the kingdom until Jesus appears to deliver Jerusalem (see part 13). So how can we arbitrarily put an end to the Church age before that?

Thanks for reading this long post. It’s an excerpt from my book “ALL LEFT BEHIND: THE CASE AGAINST THE PRE-TRIBULATION RAPTURE”, by Nicholas Fisher, available on Amazon. This post is actually an up-to-date edit. You’re getting a “second edition”, free, on this blog, and in time the entire book will be published here. Follow my blog to get notifications, or get the book to read the whole thing at once. 

RAPTURE 13: THE REAL END OF THE CHURCH AGE

Pre-tribulation teachers say that the Church’s purpose will be finished on the earth before Daniel’s “seventieth week”, also known as the Tribulation, begins, and that the focus of God’s plan will then once again be the remnant of Israel. Is this teaching clearly supported in the Bible?

File:Hortus Deliciarum, Das Gebäude der Kirche mit den Gläubigen.JPGHortus Deliciarum, Das Gebäude der Kirche mit den Gläubigen, by Herrad of Landsberg (1125-1195)

Last time I wrote a little about the Bride of Christ in relation to the rapture, and said that I will be getting into the subject of the Bride in more detail. But first I must cover other relevant detail concerning the Church of Jesus Christ.

WHEN WILL THE END OF THE CHURCH AGE BE?

The common understanding of the Church Age acknowledges that since the time of Jesus Christ, and specifically the Day of Pentecost until now, the world has been living in the “Church Age”. Pre-tribulation teachers insist that the Church Age will end before  the beginning of the tribulation, and that the consideration of any other possibility is almost heretical. The rapture will occur, and God will be finished with the Church on the earth. Jews will live through the trials of the “seven-year tribulation”, while the Church will be partying in heaven, enjoying the wedding supper of the Lamb. After this the Church, now the consummated Bride of Christ, will return to earth as a ferocious army to destroy the antichrist and his army. Is this all clearly stated in the Bible, or is it perhaps a hopeful patchwork of assumptions?

It certainly is true that Israel and the remnant of Jews will be the focal point of many activities in the tribulation, and that they are important to the fulfillment of much of Bible prophecy. There are numerous prophecies throughout the Bible indicating clearly that one objective of Antichrist will be the destruction of the state of Israel and its removal from Jerusalem, or its surrender of power over the city. Daniels “70 weeks” prophecy really does partly concern this. However, there’s no statement or obvious suggestion from Daniel’s prophecy or anywhere in the Old Testament that a multitude of Gentile believers will vanish from the world before the tribulation: the concept has to be read into such passages. New Testament scriptures used to show the same idea are very questionable. Neither Jesus Christ or Paul or Peter  mentioned anything about a seven year period of tribulation, or the disappearance of the Church before it.

THE FULLNESS OF THE GENTILES

As the scriptural hub of God’s plan during the tribulation will be Israel, does that automatically mean the predominantly Gentile Church has no place in the tribulation? Are Gentile believers really conspicuously missing en-mass from the last-days scene? Is it really all about Israel, or should we still consider Gentiles to be a concern of God at that time?

Paul wrote about the temporary setting aside of the people of Israel due to unbelief (Romans 9 to 11). This was begun during the first century. Jesus, overlooking Jerusalem, cried out:

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’ ” (Luke 13:34-35).
Later, in his Olivet Discourse, Jesus predicted the destruction of the temple and the city, which occurred in 70 AD.

Paul likened Israel to the branches of an olive plant. Some of the branches -unbelieving Israel-had been “broken off” or rejected, so that “wild” branches, representing the Gentiles, could be “grafted in”. The grafting in of the wild Gentile branches has been in process for the last two thousand years. However, the rejection of Israel said Paul, was temporary:

Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of Gentiles has come in” (Romans 11:25).

At some point in the future, the people of Israel will no longer be hardened, and they will be restored, says Paul. This will happen “when the full number of Gentiles has come in”. This is a very significant clue normally overlooked or ignored.

Once again, pre-tribulation teachers use some circular reasoning here, by saying that since we “know” the rapture of the Church is before Daniel’s seventieth week, and since we “know” the Church is absent from the outworking of the prophesies of Revelation, we also “know” that the fullness of the Gentiles being come in; the process of grafting in Gentile branches to the root, will have been accomplished before the tribulation. This, they are sure, must be the end of the Church age, because the Church is said to be gone from Revelation, and only Israel and those late-comer “saints” are left behind. Is this all true?

First, please refer to my significant analysis of John’ s testimony in a previous post, in which I showed that the claim that the Church is absent from Revelation is not valid (posts “RAPTURE 8” and “RAPTURE 9”).  

Next, if we go back to the account of the multitude “who have come out of great tribulation”, which occurs after the sixth seal and before the final seven trumpet judgments (Revelation 7:9), we see an amazing fact. This multitude is: 

“…from every nation, tribe, people and language” (verse 9)!

They aren’t just a Jewish remnant. Also, we need to acknowledge that this great multitude, apparently from all ethnic and national groups and not just the Jewish race, having lived through at least some of the tribulation, has been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death, just as we are saved now in our own time:

…they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (verse 14).

Since the fullness of the Gentiles being come in is contemporaneous with the end of the hardening of Israel, as stated by Paul in the verse above, a very pertinent question here would be, “When will the hardening of Israel end, according to Bible prophecy?” The answer to this question will more accurately mark the end of the “Church Age”, if indeed there is an end to it at all. The real answer is surprisingly accessible.

The prophesies of Zechariah give us a very clear picture of a last-days attack on the land of Israel and specifically Jerusalem, by the nations of the world. It’s when things look blackest for the Jews during the tribulation that their Messiah will, says God through Zechariah, make his appearance, and deliver the remnant. It’s at this time, and not before, that the people of Israel will receive an outpouring of the Spirit of God. They will realize just who their Deliverer is, and that they are guilty of his death on the cross:

On that day I will set out to destroy all the nations that attack Jerusalem. And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child… (Zechariah 12: 9-10).

When Christ appears to destroy his enemies and the attackers of Israel, God himself will pour out his Spirit on the Jews, opening their eyes to the truth of the Son of God, who they “pierced” and have ignored as being a false prophet for two thousand years. His feet will touch down on the Mount of Olives (Zechariah 14:4). This event occurs at the end of the tribulation, at the time of the battle of Armageddon. The sequence of these events fits perfectly into New Testament accounts of the physical, visible return of Jesus Christ: He will come down from heaven, he will defeat his enemies, and his feet will touch down on the Mount of Olives.

Here is an unmistakable indicator as to the timing of the end of the hardening of Israel, and therefore to the real timing of the end of the Church age, if there is an end. Remember, Paul said:

Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of Gentiles has come in” (Romans 11:25).

The two go together.

As, then, the hardening of Israel ends at the visible return of Jesus Christ, which is at the end of the tribulation, how can we say that the full number of Gentiles being grafted in will end at least seven years before this event? How would those multitudes from all tribes and nations-predominantly Gentiles- come to saving faith, if the full number of Gentiles had already come in seven years earlier

Will there not still be Gentiles left on the earth during the tribulation? Of course there will. And will God not care any more about Gentiles in Daniel’s 70th week, or any part thereof? Of course he will: his son died for them. They will still have a chance to repent and become saints. How then can they not be a part of the Church? What else could they be a part of? Having willingly been persecuted for their faith and their testimony and for resisting the world, the flesh and the devil, are they now going to be excluded from union with Christ? Such a conclusion is unreasonable, unscriptural and hard-hearted, all for the sake of invoking an escape from trials which the rest of Christianity has not been provided through the last two thousand years.

We’ve already seen the gospel, called here the “eternal gospel”, being preached by an angel all over the world, and not just to Jews:

…he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth-to every nation, tribe, language and people” (Revelation 14:6-7).

The angel can’t be said to be preaching in some past time period, or only in the commonly prescribed “Church Age”, because it’s clear from the language and message of the immediate context that his ministry is during the tribulation, and he says himself:

Fear God and give glory to him, for the hour of his judgment has come”.

The angel’s preaching is situated between the sealing of one hundred and forty-four thousand and a warning about the mark of the beast. It is not, therefore, before all tribulation events.

What would be the point in preaching the gospel to a world which God has already given up on? Those who may respond to the gospel at that time are contrasted with those who accept the “mark of the beast” (16:9).

Here is an unmistakable evidence to the effect that the full number of Gentiles has not yet come in at this late point of the tribulation, and will not be in until Jesus Christ appears to his Jewish remnant, causing their hearts to be softened. Jesus said to the Jews:

…you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”( Matthew 23:39).

Thanks for reading this long post. It’s an excerpt from my book “ALL LEFT BEHIND: THE CASE AGAINST THE PRE-TRIBULATION RAPTURE”, by Nicholas Fisher, available on Amazon. This post is actually an up-to-date edit. You’re getting a “second edition”, free, on this blog, and in time the entire book will be published here. Follow my blog to get notifications. Please find previous excerpts by typing in the search box. The most recent series is numbered, eg “Rapture 3”; “Rapture 4”, but you can probably enter a relevant search term such as  “The Wrath of God”.