Tag: THE RAPTURE

RAPTURE 9: JOHN’S TESTIMONY CONTINUED

Are Christian believers really going to be raptured before the troubles of the tribulation begin? That was my conviction for twenty-eight years, until I was of the mind to check if what I had believed was actually true. Here is the ninth installment of my own findings on the subject*. If you missed the first eight, you can locate them easily in the search box. This current series is numbered as above, for example, “Rapture 3”.

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THE SAINTS WHO BORE TESTIMONY TO JESUS

If it’s true that the Church is nowhere to be found on earth in the prophesies of Revelation, just who are “those who hold to the testimony of Jesus”, being persecuted by Satan and Antichrist in those chapters (Revelation 12:12; 14:12; 20:4)? People killed by the Antichrist are identified by John as “those who bore testimony to Jesus” (Revelation 12:17). And it’s important to see that this phrase is not reserved in Revelation for those being persecuted during the tribulation. The same term is also applied to the people who are commonly identified by pre-tribulation experts of today, and others, as the saints of all of Church history who have been killed by the Harlot. They were

“…those who bore testimony to Jesus (17:6).

I’ll discuss this evidence a little more next time, under the subtitle “The Blood of the Saints”

The term is even applied to John and his companions-who were first century Church-age Christians-by the angel relaying the Revelation:

I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus(19:10).

Let that sink in. Let that sink in because it’s very important. John and his brothers in the first century were described in the same words as those who will be living through the tribulation, as are those who will be persecuted by the Beast.

John, a first century, Church-age believer, also applied the term to himself at the beginning of the book, and related it to the suffering of his own persecution:

I John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the testimony of Jesus(Revelation 1:9).

Here is clear evidence of an undeniable oneness between all believers of the real Church age-including the tribulation: between all who “hold to the testimony of Jesus”. There are no second-class believers consigned to be “left behind” for the tribulation.

Similarly, John spoke of the tribulation saints “who obey God’s commandments” (Revelation 12:17 and 14:12). It’s no good describing this as a reference to law-abiding Jews or Messianic Jews as some prophecy teachers want to (though it may relate to them also) because in John’s letters-to first century Church-age believers, he used the same Greek word when writing about the importance of obeying God’s commandments (1 John 2:3-4; 1 John 3:22-24; 1 John 5:2-3; 2 John 1:5-6). True Christians of John’s century were those who obeyed God’s commandments, just as the tribulation saints will obey God’s commandments. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

WHY ARE THERE NO CHURCHES IN REVELATION 4 ONWARD?

We’re told that the Church is nowhere mentioned in the prophecies of the tribulation, and so therefore it must be absent from the world at that time. Note again, however, that the words “Church” and “churches” are not mentioned in any heavenly scenes in Revelation either, until after the tribulation. If the Church is in heaven at this time, why is it not explicitly mentioned as the “Church”?

When you read chapters 1 to 3 of Revelation you find that the word “Church” is not used in a universal sense even in those letters addressed to first-century churches. The word “church” is only used to speak of individual churches, and for the gatherings receiving letters from Jesus. So the word “Church” in its universal sense is absent from all of Revelation including the first three chapters, not just from chapter 4 on. 

The word “church” in a local sense speaks of organized gatherings of believers. Strong’s concordance defines the word translated “church” thus:

…church, congregation, assembly, a group of people gathered”).

It’s possible, considering that the prophesies of the tribulation in Revelation speak of a time of persecution of Christians, that the word “church” is absent from chapters 4 to 21 because there will be no churches. There will be no open gatherings: they will be outlawed. There may be some secret gatherings, but they will be at the risk of discovery by the anti-Christian task forces and world citizens eager to fulfill the will of Antichrist. They may even be outlawed before the tribulation, considering the direction of the “free” world at this present time.

One evidence of this from scripture is that while there will be “saints who bare testimony to Jesus” during the tribulation and the reign of Antichrist, there’s no mention of any gatherings of those saints! This alone is a significant fact. Since there will be believers, is it not powerful evidence that there is no mention of their gatherings? Similarly, while we believe that there will be a remnant of Jews, there’s not even a mention in Revelation of synagogues, but only a reference to the Jerusalem temple. This shows that either there will be no open gatherings, or that they are simply not mentioned by John or those dictating to him. This, then, easily explains why “churches” are not mentioned during the prophecies! Whatever reason there is that gatherings of “saints” or Jews in the tribulation are non-existent in Revelation after chapter 3 is the same answer to the question of why churches are absent. Instead of churches, or open gatherings of saints, there will be individuals, struggling to survive in an increasingly hostile world where they cannot congregate because of persecution and opposition.

Moreover, it’s never mentioned by the prophecy “experts” of today that John did not use the words “Church” or “churches” at all in his first or second epistles, or in his gospel, even though they were written to Christians of his day. When he did write the word “churches” he was referring to an organized gathering.

This is the same definition of “church” used by Paul and others. For example, when referring to groups of believers Paul did not always use the word “churches”. On this occasion he did:

Paul… and all the brothers with me , to the churches in Galatia” (Galatians 1:1-2).

However, Paul used the term “saints”-the word used for those who hold to the testimony of Jesus in Revelation- for individual believers, and complimented it or contrasted it with the term “churches”. In this way he was making a distinction between gatherings of believers and individuals:

To the church in Corinth…together with all the saints throughout Achaia” (2 Corinthians 1:1).

There was a “church” in Corinth, but there were “saints” throughout all Achaia.

Paul used the term “saints” many times for individual believers, which substituted nicely for the word “church”, which he didn’t use at all in this example:

To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 1:1).

He also used the word “believers” at times, in place of “church”:

“…let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:10).

*This post is an excerpt from my book “All Left Behind: The Case Against the Pre-Tribulation Rapture”, available from Amazon in paperback and electronic form. The entire book, edited and improved, will eventually be excerpted here on this blog.

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RAPTURE 8: JOHN’S TESTIMONY

Welcome to this excerpt of my book on the rapture*. I want to reiterate that I am not a-millennial in my views, and I do not go along with any replacement theology. I was zealously pre-tribulational for twenty-eight years, until my eyes were opened to reality…

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The apostle John’s life was greatly blessed in many ways. And though he was, during his later life, exiled to a small island as a form of persecution, even there God blessed him enormously with the privilege of the Revelation of Jesus Christ, recorded in the last book of our Bible. As John is the one who was given the Revelation, and “the one who Jesus loved”; who wrote one of the four gospels and some incredible letters too, it seems obvious that we ought to be able to glean some clues as to the timing of the rapture from his writings. These notes are updated from previous blog posts on the subject.

IS THE CHURCH MISSING FROM REVELATION CHAPTER 4 ONWARD?

The first three chapters of Revelation contain letters to seven churches from the risen, glorified Jesus Christ. They’re initially addressed to seven individual first-century churches, but many pre-tribulation teachers and believers see these letters as also relating to later ages of the universal Church, so that one way or another they encompass the entire “Church Age”, which they say is from Pentecost to the rapture. In relation to the rapture, they insist that while the Church is spoken of in the seven letters, the words “Church” and its local version “church” are nowhere mentioned in the rest of Revelation, which covers the Tribulation. This is taken as evidence that the Church will no longer be on the earth during that time: it will be in heaven watching the events of the tribulation in safety from there. After all, why would Jesus Christ speak so openly to the churches in the first three chapters of the Revelation, and then have nothing to say about them or to them after the letters, if Church-age believers were to be in the middle of all the prophesied turmoil?

Our first remarkable observation in answer to this belief should be that the words “Church” and “churches” are not used to describe anyone in heaven during the tribulation events in Revelation either! Why do pre-trib teachers never point that out? So where is the Church? Where are the “churches”?

What’s never mentioned is that the prophesies of Revelation found in chapter 4 onward are all given to the churches-not just the first three chapters. We know this because we’re told so in the Revelation itself. After the prophesies are all given, we read:

I Jesus have sent my angel to give you this testimony FOR THE CHURCHES (Revelation 22:16).

THE ENTIRE BOOK OF REVELATION IS A TESTIMONY TO THE CHURCHES!

Jesus said that the entire book of Revelation-not just the first three chapters-is a “testimony” for the churches. A testimony is evidence; proof; a formal statement. We first hear of this “testimony” at the beginning of chapter 1, where we’re told that Jesus Christ’s revelation is concerning “what must soon take place”. Therefore the testimony includes not just the seven letters but all the following prophesies. The entire thing is, “…the testimony of Jesus Christ” (verse 2). The churches-supposedly representing the Church age only-are provided the same “testimony” as those who are martyred during the Tribulation in the rest of Revelation.

So one message is told throughout the book. There are not separate testimonies for the rapture candidates and the failures. The book is a unit, not divided in two or three parts, and is as relevant to the Church as it is to Jews or anyone converted during the Tribulation. The prophesies, says Christ himself, are for the Church, and not just for others who are “left behind”.

WAS JOHN’S TRIP TO HEAVEN A TYPE OF THE RAPTURE?

After Jesus’ letter to the church in Laodicea the book of Revelation takes a sharp turn towards a scene in heaven. John, receiving the Revelation, is called verbally up into heaven, and then taken there instantly (chapter 4:1-2).

The calling of John into heaven before any account of the prophesies is given is seen as a type of the rapture: it supposedly demonstrates what will happen to the whole Church when Jesus Christ changes us all “in the twinkling of an eye”. It’s also believed to show, since it’s a type of our own rapture, that we will be raptured before the tribulation, because John’s “rapture” occurred before any of the events of the tribulation recorded in Revelation were shown to him. The Church, according to pre-tribulation teachers, will similarly be called and taken into heaven before any tribulation events or the judgments take place.

There’s no statement that John’s trip into heaven represents the rapture of the Church-it’s just assumed that it is, because it appears to be so much like what Paul described as the rapture. However, logically speaking John had to be shown the events of the entire tribulation, otherwise he would not have been able to record them for us. If he didn’t arrive in heaven to see any of the vision until the seven bowls of wrath were being poured out, he would have missed some of the most important prophesies, and we would only have a part of the story. His vision had to begin at the beginning, and so John had to be taken up into heaven to see the beginning of the account of relevant future events. It may be just as simple as that: John’s trip to heaven at the start of tribulation prophecy makes simple logical sense, and doesn’t necessarily forecast a pre-tribulation rapture for the Church at all.

Thinking about John’s calling into heaven, I had to conclude that I would not personally want to see it as a type of the rapture, because John came back to earth as a mortal again! We don’t know that John even went to heaven physically. All we know is that when he was called into heaven he said:

At once I was in the Spirit” (verse 2).

Whether John was in heaven in the spirit or in the flesh, he returned to earth and to his mortal body. If he hadn’t, we wouldn’t have the book of Revelation. John came back to earth as a man and died. He isn’t in the world today. If his calling to heaven was a type of the rapture that the Church will experience, does that mean we will also return to earth as mortals, and die?

TESTIMONY, CHURCHES, SAINTS

The prophetic writings of John from Revelation chapter 4 on are considered to contain different terminology than the earlier chapters containing letters to the seven churches, supposedly showing that the people living in the Church age are different to those raptured before the tribulation. Is this a valid observation? I intend to show that John’s terminology is consistent throughout his writings, showing a unity of meaning. In other words, those he refers to as “saints” in Revelation are no different than those written about and alive at the time of the writing of his gospel and letters.

A careful reading of Revelation shows that there are common terms and phrases used in John’s works, both throughout Revelation, and in his other New Testament writings. For example, He used the phrase “the testimony of Jesus”, in Revelation seven times, referring to the testimony of those saints living during the tribulation, as well as using the word “testimony” separately several more times. The “saints” found in the apocalyptic chapters of Revelation are called:

…those who hold to the testimony of Jesus” (Revelation 12:17).

However, it’s important to recognize that the word “testimony” had also been a common theme in John’s gospel:

…one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true” (John 19:35).

This term is much more common in John’s gospel than in the other gospels. It’s also more common in his letters than in other New Testament letters, and more so than in Luke’s account of the early Church in Acts.

Interestingly, his word “testimony”, found in Revelation, is also found in two of his epistles to Church age disciples, as is the term, “God’s testimony”:

Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son…” (see 1 John 5:9-12, and 3 John 13).

Therefore, John used the same term to describe Christians living in his own time, and their message, as he did for those living through the Tribulation in Revelation.

Thanks for reading! This subject will continue no more than a week from now.

*My book, “ALL LEFT BEHIND: THE CASE AGAINST THE PRE-TRIBULATION RAPTURE” by Nick Fisher, is available in paperback and on e-book from Amazon. However, in time, the entire volume will be excerpted here in this blog, re-edited, and entirely free-I’m not looking to profit from what you need to know.

RAPTURE 6: IMMINENCE

Welcome back to excerpts from my book “All Left Behind: The Case Against the Pre-Tribulation Rapture”. I was once a zealous defender of the pre-trib. rapture, but came to see things very differently when I eventually faced up to certain scriptures I had previously ignored, and analysed them more realistically. Here then is installment 6, which considers the doctrine of Imminence.

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Pre-tribulation believers say that Christ’s coming is ‘imminent’. In the context of the rapture those who use the term mean that Jesus could come back secretly at any moment, just for his Church, without any warning or notice; leaving everyone else including nominal believers behind. There’s nothing else which needs to happen “on God’s prophetic clock” before the rapture, they say. Seemingly in support of this view are the words of Jesus who said we cannot know the day or the hour of his coming (Matthew 24:36-42). He said he is coming “quickly (KJV)” or “soon” (NIV, Revelation 22:12).

According to the doctrine of Imminence, if we were to see any of the tribulation signs of his coming we would be able to know he’s coming and when he’s coming. But this cannot happen, since Jesus said he would come “like a thief in the night”. Therefore his secret coming must happen before the “seven year tribulation”. If we saw the “signing of the peace treaty” we would be able to calculate the day and the hour of his coming, but Jesus said we cannot know the day or the hour-therefore we will not see it. Instead the Church will be taken in a surprise rapture before the “peace treaty” is signed and before the tribulation begins. Don’t even question the doctrine of Imminence, they insist: that’s very nearly heresy. Imminence is presented on one web-page in defense of the pre-tribulation rapture as “the grand-daddy of proofs”.

Admittedly, it’s clear from Jesus’ own words that we cannot know the day or the hour of his coming, so it’s inarguable that his coming truly is “imminent”. However, the application of imminence to the concept of a pre-tribulation rapture does not stand up to close scrutiny. 

Pre-tribulation teachers will say, as they must, 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, and not for the Church. Yet it was during that discourse and to those same believers that Jesus said these commonly-quoted lines:

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) and;

Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour” (25:13).

There’s something wrong here. Why would Jesus say “you do not know the day or the hour” to the very people who the pre-tribulation believers say will be around during the tribulation, if that warning is intended to support a pre-tribulation rapture? Pre-tribbers tell us that these quotes mean the rapture is imminent and so before the tribulation, but in fact Jesus is saying these things for the benefit and instruction of the people who will be living on earth during the tribulation! Jesus wasn’t even talking to believers who might be gone before the tribulation when he said, “you do not know the day or the hour”. He was talking to his disciples about his visible, physical coming in power and glory!

If Jesus was talking to early rapture candidates in his Olivet Discourse, wouldn’t he have said something like, “Fear not, because I”ll take you away before such things happen”.

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There’s more. Here’s another quote from the same passage:

So when you see standing in the holy place the abomination that causes desolation…” (24:15).

Jesus was speaking of the abomination of desolation-which is at the mid-point of the expected seven years-to the very same people who he said couldn’t know the day or the hour of his coming, and he said that they would “see” it. If this was intended as a warning, not to the Church but to a Jewish remnant, wouldn’t they be able, upon seeing the “desolation”, to calculate the day and hour of his coming? Why then did he also tell them they could not know the day or the hour of his coming, if seeing the abomination would tell them the exact day and time? How can we take his admonition to “keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour” as an evidence of Imminence doctrine in the form of a pre-tribulation rapture? Jesus is speaking to people living through the tribulation!

By the reckoning of pre-tribulation teachers, the people Jesus was addressing in his Olivet Discourse-the Jewish remnant- should also be aware of the “peace-treaty” they say will be made, and of the rebuilding of the temple. So presumably under the logic of Imminence theory, they would then be able to calculate the day and hour of his coming! But Jesus told them they could not know the day or the hour. It’s faulty logic and just plain wrong to say that if believers were to see any tribulation events occur, they would be breaking the words of Jesus when he said we cannot know the day or the hour.

It’s important to note at this point that Jesus didn’t actually mention any “seven year peace treaty” in his “Olivet Discourse”. Why not? Did he forget? Did he not think it was important? Did the translators leave it out?

When Jesus said “No one knows about that day or hour…” (verse 36) he had, moments before in verses 28-31, been speaking about his physical, visible appearing in power and glory for all the world to see-not about a secret rapture. He was saying this at the time he gave the discourse in the first century, and even in our time now, nobody knows exactly when he’s coming. As we’ve seen, even during the future time of distress he described in Matthew chapter 24, it seems people will still not know “the day or the hour” of his coming. We can look, and we can expect and hope, and we can see certain events which suggest the time is near, but no-one, then or now, or in the future, can know the exact “day or the hour”.

Strangely, the same people who say that “nothing needs to happen before the rapture” will tell you that there are plenty of signs of the coming tribulation to be seen now, and they proceed to publish books and videos and TV shows about those very signs which they are clever enough to divine. They’re the “watchmen on the wall”, and so make a good living telling the rest of us what prophetic signs have been fulfilled, while also telling us that the coming of Jesus is imminent and nothing else needs to happen before the rapture. If it’s imminent to the point of us not having a clue about the time of his coming, and if “nothing else needs to happen before the rapture”, what’s all this talk of signs being fulfilled? Why does the “Imminence” principle have to be applied to a pre-tribulation rapture only?

Thanks for reading. This subject will be continued in a few days.

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”.

RAPTURE 4: IS JESUS A THIEF?

For twenty-eight years I was a believer in and fierce defender of the “pre-tribulation” rapture: not any more. If you find yourself in that camp, I sincerely hope you can open your mind a little to the idea that the pre-tribulation rapture theory has some serious flaws, and that the consequences for us as believers are very considerable…

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This post is a part of chapter three of my book* It’s rather lengthy, but you can scroll down and get the gist of it if you want.

WILL THE SECOND COMING BE IN TWO STAGES?

Experts see the second coming of Jesus Christ happening in two stages. In pre-tribulation theory, these two stages are separated by a time period of at least seven years. The first stage of Christ’s second coming, say the experts, will be in secret, like a thief in the night, in the air, to ‘catch up’ the Church into heaven (Revelation 16:15; 2 Peter 3:10, 1 Thessalonians 5:2; Matthew 24:43; 1 Thessalonians 4:17). The second stage, it’s believed, will be for all the world to see, and to bring judgment on those who were left behind by the rapture and who didn’t repent during the tribulation (Revelation 19:11-16; Matthew 24:30; Zechariah 12:10).

I have to wonder why God wants to spend seven years punishing the world, when he’s going to be judging each and every individual when he returns anyway. Does he have a mean streak? Is he sadistic? Does he want to prolong the suffering of the lost on earth before he sends them into the lake of fire? No, Jesus is not sadistic: the tribulation time is a time of division. It is the last opportunity for man to repent , or to be eternally lost.

The phrase ‘thief in the night’, taken from 1 Thessalonians 5:2-4, is used by prophecy experts to conjure up visions of Jesus secretly snatching away his Church before any tribulation starts, taking everyone by surprise, leaving traffic-jams with empty cars and pilot-less planes to fall from the sky. All sorts of scenarios have been imagined to explain the sudden disappearance of millions of people around the world, including a mass alien cleansing of the earth before the aliens come to straighten planet earth out.

As a new believer I was terrified that I may do, say or think something which would jeopardize my rapture status, leaving me behind in a hostile world devoid of the Holy Spirit and other Christians, to deal with the mark of the beast and persecution. Beside fearfulness, this kind of thinking can produce a class mentality: a world in which you have the good rapture candidates, and those who aren’t going to make it. They aren’t committed enough, or they aren’t spiritual enough, or they’ve had a sip of alcoholic drink and failed the test.

August 2013 012

IS JESUS A THIEF?

Are we to see Jesus as a “thief”? Will he “steal” his people from the world when nobody is expecting him to? Jesus did say, a few times, that he would come “like a thief”. The first such simile in the book of Revelation is found in his letter to the first-century church at Sardis:

If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I come against you” (Revelation 3:3 ESV).

Without doubt Jesus is likening his coming to that of a thief. However, he is here threatening to come against the church in judgment or discipline, not to rapture it away. He’s not promising to “snatch up” all the compliant faithful congregants leaving the rest behind. He’s not preparing the church for rapture.

As far as I know no pre-tribulation teachers suggest that the church in Sardis directly represents the last-days Church universal, though some do say that all the letters to the churches of Revelation speak of it in some way, directly or indirectly. Certainly the weaknesses of man are universal, and Jesus did say repeatedly, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 3:6). We do all need to learn from their failures and their successes, and from the direction of the word of God.

The second time in Revelation that Jesus said he would come like a thief is in chapter 16:

Behold, I come like a thief! Blessed is he who stays awake…” (Revelation 16:15).

The timing of this statement must be significant. It’s just after…and not before…six of the seven bowl judgments-final judgments-very possibly concurrent or synonymous to the seven trumpet judgments, in which the sea has been turned to blood, and several other terrible plagues have take place. It’s also just before the beast and the kings of the earth are gathered together in the place called Armageddon, where Jesus Christ will engage them upon his glorious return in power and glory. Remember that we found that after the sixth trumpet the kings of the earth realize God’s wrath has come (Revelation 6:12-17). Incredibly, the final gathering of armies is a last-gasp and futile human effort to prevent Jesus Christ returning (19:19).

The seven trumpet judgments of wrath are arguably contemporaneous with the seven bowls of God’s wrath (16:1b). One reason for believing this is that they both are said to fulfill the wrath of God:

(TRUMPETS)

There will be no more delay! But in the days when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet, the mystery of God will be accomplished” (Revelation 10:6-7).

The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said, ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ…’” (Revelation 11:15).

(BOWLS)

I saw in heaven another great and marvelous sign: seven last plagues-last, because with them God’s wrath is completed” (Revelation 15:1).

The significance of the above facts is that on both occasions in Revelation in which Jesus says that he will come like a thief, the topic is judgment and wrath. Someone is about to be judged-not raptured!

Jesus also spoke of his coming as being “like a thief” in his Olivet Discourse. Warning his disciples not to become complacent and fall into sin, he gave the example of Noah and the flood, in which all the wicked were judged. He told them to keep watch, just as a house owner would keep watch over his house if he knew a thief was about (Matthew 24: 36-44). More on Jesus’ example of Noah later.

August 2013 010

WHAT IS A THIEF?

Think about what a thief is. A thief is someone who does something no-one likes: he takes what is NOT his. But Jesus Christ’s Church is his property, his bride. Is he really calling himself a thief in the above passages? Should he be thought of as a thief, or that he wanted to be known as a thief?

Jesus didn’t actually say, “I am a thief”, or “I will be a thief”. Instead he said “I come like a thief”. Jesus does not steal what is not his. Instead he comes in the manner of a thief: suddenly; unexpected; without warning; unannounced; uninvited.

THIEF IN THE NIGHT

The “thief in the night” phrase is today taken out of its proper context. It doesn’t refer in scripture to the rapture at all, as believed by millions of Christians. According to Paul it’s “the day of the Lord” which will come like a thief in the night-not the rapture:

“…for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2).

So what exactly is the day of the Lord? Paul described the day of the Lord not as the “snatching up of the Church”, but as the time of destruction of the unsaved:

While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety’, destruction will come on them suddenly…(verse 3).

The truth will dawn on the unbelieving world, though they had been thinking that their own great leader had everything under control-that is, the man and the kingdom about whom Daniel says:

When they feel secure, he will destroy many and take his stand against the Prince of princes. Yet he will be destroyed, but not by human power (Daniel 8:25).

And John tells us that the people of earth, in admiration of him, will say:

“Who is like the beast? Who can wage war against it?” (Revelation 13:4).

The God they had insisted didn’t exist will suddenly be knocking very loudly on their door. It will be the ultimate shocking realization for them.

Those in rebellion against God will for a time think they have the world to themselves (they do now!). Instead they’re going to get a severe shock when the day of the Lord comes upon them, “like a thief in the night”.

Peter also likened the day of the Lord, not Jesus or the rapture, to a thief:

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire…(2 Peter 3:10).

Luke’s account of Jesus’ parable concerning the master who appears and takes his servants by surprise also uses the “thief” metaphor, but Jesus wasn’t using it in positive terms. In fact, he said that a wise house owner “would not have let his house be broken into” (Luke 12:39). This imagery would be conflicting with the pre-tribulation understanding of the “thief in the night” if it were true, suggesting that the wise house owner would not let Jesus-the thief-inside to rapture him.

Picture Jesus as the thief coming to rapture you, and you locking the door so he couldn’t get in! Surely that analogy does not make sense as rapture talk.

*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 5 WILL APPEAR SOON