Tag: TIMING OF THE RAPTURE

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”.

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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…

403px-Johannes_op_Patmos_Jeroen_Bosch

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 3: SAINTS OF WRATH?

Hello and Shalom to all you truth-seekers out there. Welcome to part three of my latest series on the timing of the rapture. Herein are more excerpts from my book* 

Bury-your-Head-in-the-sand

Many Christians wonder why people like myself bother writing on this  subject. They think it unimportant or irrelevant, or already covered adequately by others. In response, I will just say that far too many who are interested in future things are sticking their heads in the sand of faulty and mistaken doctrine, and will be shocked if those times they expect to escape are suddenly upon us. Very few are raising alarm bells in this regard. Here, then, is a continuation of my own alarm bells.

THE SAINTS OF WRATH?

Some argue that the wrath of God will fall for the entire future seven years they envisage, because the rapture will have taken place, and anyone “left behind” will be under that wrath. As a consequence of not being ready for the rapture, they say, these people will have to face all the horrors of tribulation. This argument doesn’t work, when you consider that there will be “saints” alive at that time, according to Revelation. We read about those saints in several places in Revelation, and how they will be persecuted for their resistance to the kingdom of the Antichrist. Will those “saints”, who are followers of Jesus Christ (Revelation 12:17) be under the wrath of God? Hardly! God said  that they who give their lives for him at that time will be “blessed”! They will not be under wrath or any curse:

Then I heard a voice from heaven say, ‘Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on’ (Revelation 14:12-13 NIV).

Since this is the case, how can we smugly see ourselves as the recipients of blessing in a pre-tribulation rapture while the saints of tribulation times will be under God’s wrath? Surely they will not be, even though they will be alive as humans in Antichrist’s kingdom. Millions of Christians have been persecuted over the centuries, and many are being persecuted this very day. Being alive in the world at that future time described in Revelation does not equate to being under the wrath of God!

NO SEVEN-YEAR WRATH

John writes in Revelation that Antichrist will have power over the earth for forty-two months, or three and a half years (Revelation 13:5). So if the wrath of God in the form of disasters, plagues etc. does not fall until after the revealing of Antichrist, as Paul clearly indicates, it means wrath falls on humanity for much less than a seven year period. There’s no passage of scripture declaring that God’s wrath, or even man’s wrath, will play out for seven years. The words of Jesus may confirm this. In his Olivet Discourse, Jesus speaks first about the destruction of the temple, due to happen just decades after the disciples hear his warning. Then when the disciples ask him about the end of the age, he tells them that such things as deception, earthquakes and wars will herald the “birth pains” of the end times. Jesus said that nation will rise against nation, and there will be famines and earthquakes. All these things can be said to have been occurring over the last two-thousand years (Matthew 24:1-14). In fact, he said of them:

Do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come” (verse 6).

This suggests that any increase in intensity of “birth pains”, envisaged within the Olivet Discourse by prophecy experts today, have not occurred yet in the narrative. It seems that at some point those “birth pains” will indeed intensify, because Jesus goes on to intensify them. But when he says “then” in verse 9, to continue his prophecy, does he mean that the following events are just a part of what he has already mentioned-the “birth pains” which are not to be worried about? No, it seems he means that those things he has warned of will intensify, as suggested by his description. He lays out a vision of severe persecution, a loss of faith among many, a profusion of false prophets, deception, and a noticeable increase in wickedness (verses 9-11).

THE “PEACE TREATY”: NOT A SIGN OF RAPTURE

If a pre-tribulation rapture is to deliver us from the wrath of God, it does not need to occur until at most forty-two months before the visible return of Jesus Christ. There is no other event beside the revealing of Antichrist which we can be sure will be noticeable as a prophetic sign that the day of the Lord has come.

The “peace deal” which many believe Daniel speaks of as occurring at the beginning of the “seven year tribulation” is actually some sort of “covenant”, treaty or agreement (Daniel 9:27). It may not be an item of news. In other words, it may be done under the table, behind closed doors, in secret, without the world knowing. This would explain why Jesus and Paul did not mention any covenant, treaty or peace deal as a sign of the start of the day of the Lord. Instead they spoke only of the revealing of Antichrist as the mark of its beginning.

There are some that believe the first half of Daniel’s last “seven”, usually interpreted as the “seven-year tribulation”, actually played out at the time of Christ. In this case, there is only 42 months of God’s “seventy weeks” plan left to unfold-the very time period spoken of regularly in Revelation. Whether or not this is so, Paul and Jesus did not mention any peace treaty or covenant. A “falling away” and the revealing of Antichrist will come as first signs, and the wrath of God will probably not, judging by the opening of the seals, and the record of Revelaton, fall immediately after that. So why do we have to invoke a pre-tribulation rapture at least seven years before the return of Christ?

WRATH, RELIEF AND REVENGE: AT THE PHYSICAL RETURN OF JESUS CHRIST

Another indicator of the timing of God’s wrath is given by Paul in his first letter to the Thessalonians. He told these Christians that they would be rewarded for their good deeds and avenged for the way they’ve been mistreated. This will happen, he said, upon the physical return of Jesus Christ to the earth, and not before:

He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels…on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed” (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10).

So not only will believers not be avenged or rewarded until the physical appearance of Jesus Christ on the earth, but Paul equates that day with the day Jesus is glorified and marveled at by “all those who have believed”. Here is as clear a statement of the timing of the rapture as we can find-but it’s ignored by the experts.

Making that “day” a general time only obfuscates and fudges, because the same “day” is applied to the blessing of believers as the day of vengeance. Both happen on the same “day”, and there’s no indication that rewards to believers come before Christ’s vengeance. Changing this “day” to mean a general time period is actually changing the content of the verse, because Paul clearly said that these two things will occur when Christ is made physically manifest, in blazing fire, with his powerful angels. This will happen on a specific day, not an age or a general time period.

*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 4 WILL APPEAR SOON.