BELOW IS MY RESPONSE TO THIS BROTHER’S ARTICLE REGARDING THE LAST DAYS. YOU CAN SEE THAT I DISAGREE WITH SOME OF HIS VIEWS. BUT OVERALL HIS INSIGHTS ARE EXCELLENT.
I have finished reading your appendix 9 – A study on the last days. Below I want to comment on some sections which I have some disagreements. I hope you will take them in the spirit that is intended. My goal is to follow the Berea example, which is to “search the scriptures daily, (and to consider) whether those things were so." (Acts 17:11).
How much is Revealed?
In your “Events in the Last Days" section on Page 1 you correctly pointed out that " There is a considerable body of prophetic material in scriptures regarding the last days". Yet on Page 6 you wrote that “…vital details have been withheld from us. The picture we are given is purposely incomplete, and likely critically incomplete“. In the subsequent section titled “Do not choose from Any of their Theories” you once again reiterated that “…vital details have been withheld from us”. These two statements seem to contradict each other: if God intends to make the end time revelations hazy and incomplete, He would not have given us such a considerable body of prophetic materials regarding the Last Days.
While I agree that God did not reveal everything about the Last Days (most notably the exact date and time of His return), he does want us to know as much as we can. End time prophecies are plentiful in both the Old and New Testaments. In fact, in the first chapter of the Book of Revelation (this word means unveiling, not hiding) we are asked to “hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein, in order to receive His Blessing”. (Rev. 1:3). The fact that not everything about the end times has been revealed to us does not render end time issues “…very secondary place", as you wrote at the end of page 8. I contend that God has given us sufficient information about the end times for us to study, observe, be encouraged, and act accordingly.
Even on the timing of the Rapture of the church, there are a lot of materials for us to analyze and determine which timing scenario is most reasonable (more discussions below). In other words, the absence of 100% revelation should not prevent us from studying the scriptures to determine the meaning and timing of end time events. As you know, prophecies about the second coming of Christ far outnumber prophecies on His first coming. I wish churches would provide more pulpit preaching and Sunday school teaching on Christ’s second advent, and not relegate this important subject to “a very secondary place”.
So how much has been revealed? My view is: plentiful, to the point that we can have a pretty good grasp of God’s eternal plans. Let us be reminded that “The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” (Deuteronomy 29:29)
Is the Olivet Discourse the Key Passage about the Last Days?
You wrote on the top of page 3 that “the key passage in the NT about the last days is Jesus’ Temple discourse”. I slightly disagree. While Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21 are important passages regarding the end times, there are other key passages about the end times in the New Testament in the book of Revelation, and in the epistles of Thessalonian and John. And there are important passages in the Old Testament in the Books of Daniel, Ezekiel, Zechariah, etc. Together they give a rather clear and complete picture of what will happen in the end times.
Jesus’ Olivet Discourse primarily deals with one aspect of the end times, namely the Great Tribulation. John deals with this subject more thoroughly in Revelation 6-19, and Paul deals with the subject of rapture and resurrection in his epistles to the Corinthians (resurrection) and Thessalonians (rapture and the Anti-Christ). In the Olivet Discourse Jesus was speaking to a Jewish audience, whereas the Great Tribulations also have significance for people in the entire world (particular for those who think that Christians also must live through the Tribulations).
On page 3 you gave a detailed argument about whether the Great Tribulation is in the past (circa 70 AD) or the future. The former is the Preterists’ viewpoint which thinks all end time prophecies have already happened. On Page 4 you correctly explained that prophecies can have multiple fulfillment. Indeed, a number of prophecies do combine the first and the second coming, thus they may appear confusing. A prime example would be Isaiah 9:6a “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder…”. Here in one familiar verse both advents are depicted. There are prophets like Daniel and Ezekiel who had not witnessed either advent. There are those disciples in the first century who witnessed the first advent but not the second. Christians today have the benefit of history of the first advent, as well as clear explanations about the second advent given by Apostles Paul and John. In addition, we have the history of 2,000 years of the fulfillment of some critical prophecies concerning the gathering of the Israelites to the land they were promised. So we actually know a lot more about the end times then first century Christians.
A study of end time prophecies must extend beyond the Olivet Discourse, and we will find that God has given us a lot of information through OT prophets and NT apostles.
Do Believers need to go through the Great Tribulation?
Clearly you disagree with pre-tribulation rapture and feel that Christians living in the end times also need to go through the Great Tribulation. Your argument seems to center around the Lord’s teaching that Christians do face persecutions and suffering, and to hope that we do not have to go through the Great Tribulation makes Christians complacent. You also feel that, based on Revelation 3:10, a few Christians may escape the Great Tribulations, but most will not.
Indeed, one of objections to a pre-tribulation view is that these Christians are reluctant to suffer for Christ, as they prefer a life of comfort and safety. Not only are these Christians complacent, they have ignored biblical teachings about enduring suffering and persecutions. However, I think we need to go to the scriptures in order to understand whether we will be raptured before, during or after the Great Tribulation. This issue is so important that we cannot just rely on our emotions and willingness to suffer for Christ. Below I shall explain why I see pre-tribulation rapture is most reasonable.
The Two Worries of the Thessalonians
The biblical passage that most directly deal with the subject of rapture is 1st Thessalonians Chapter 4. As background, Christians at the church in Thessalonica face two serious worries or stresses. The first has to do with the worry that, while they are waiting for the Lord’s return, some Christians have died and may therefore miss the return of Christ. (I Thes 4:13-14). The second concern or worry has to do with their being told by some people (who forged Paul’s writings) that they are already in the last days/Great Tribulation as they are indeed enduring persecutions and tribulations (II Thes 1:4).
To address the first concern, Paul told them when Christ returns those Christians who died will not miss the event, but they will be the first ones to be resurrected and raptured (4:16). Then those Christians who are still living will be raptured with the resurrected Christians to meet Christ in mid-air. Paul told the Thessalonians to “comfort and exhort one another” with these words about the rapture. Nothing is written here about their being in the Great Tribulations. Then we read in the subsequent chapter (Chapter 5) about being in darkness (5:4-5), and facing sudden destructions (5:2). Notice these calamities are described after the rapture in Chapter 4. And Paul clearly stated in 5:9-10 that “For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him”. Then Paul asks them to comfort each other (5:11) precisely because we do not have to face the Great Tribulation which is described here as darkness and sudden destruction.
As for the second concern, Paul told them in II Thes. Chapter 2 that they are not yet in the last days/Great Tribulations because the Anti-Christ must first appear before they are in the last days/Great Tribulation. Surely Paul did not write that “Do not worry about being in the Great Tribulations because you will be raptured before the Great Tribulation comes”. He does not have to do it here, since I think he has already taught them this (II Thes 2:5). So by reminding them that they have not missed the rapture and they are not in the Great Tribulation, Paul wants them to comfort one another (2:17), and not be shaken or troubled (2:1).
From the above, I hope you see that Paul is most likely a pre-Trib, not mid-Trib or post-Trib.
The Two Stages of Christ’s Return
I Thes.4 and Revelations 19 describe the return of Christ. Zachariah 14 describes that when Christ returns ‘his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south. “(14:4) The two men in white apparel in Acts 1 confirm that “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” (1:11) The rapture events described in I Thes 4 and the events described elsewhere cannot all refer to the same thing except both refers to Christ’s return to earth. So it is clear that Christ’s return will happen in two stages. The first stage is to meet resurrected Christians and living Christians in mid-air (IThes. 4), so his feet do not touch the ground. The second stage is when he returns and lands on the Mount of Olives (Zach 14, Acts 2), with an army of followers (the raptured Christians). This will happen 7 years later at the end of the Great Tribulation when Jesus will save Israel from certain destruction.
If we accept that Christ will return in two stages, then the first stage (the rapture) seems to happen right before the Great Tribulations. It could be an event which is not witnessed by the rest of the world, so the result will be the sudden disappearance of all Christians on earth. I believe that is the end of the Church age which started after that Pentecost 40 days after Jesus ascended to heaven.
Imminency (it could happen at any time) and suddenness are the key features of the rapture, which is described as “a thief in the night” in II Thes. 5:2-3. If the rapture does not happen before the Great Tribulation but during the Tribulation, then there would not be any element of imminency because both the events and the length of the Great Tribulation period are already known. And if the rapture happens at or near the end of the Great Tribulations, and since we will return to earth with Christ, why even bother to rapture us and then to have us return shortly afterwards (like a roller coaster)? We may as well just wait on earth for Christ to come down.
I do not think we will go through the Great Tribulation because we are Christ’s bride whom Christ loves. And the Great Tribulation serves no purpose on us (see the purposes of the Great Tribulations below – we neither need to be punished nor saved).
Who will enter the Millennium Kingdom?
If the rapture of Christians happens at the end of the Great Tribulations then all those who become Christians during the Great Tribulations will also be raptured. As a result, only resurrected Christians will enter the Millennium Kingdom. Even the Christians who are living during rapture will have new bodies then. But in the Millennium Kingdom there will be ordinary Christians who would continue to procreate, as there will be babies born during the Millennium Kingdom. This would render a post-Tribulation impossible.
The Purposes of the Great Tribulation
Why in God’s Eternal plan are there seven years of great tribulations for the entire world? If we understand the Purposes then perhaps we can see more clearly why we Christians do not need to go through the Great Tribulation.
Great Tribulation does have a strong Jewish connotation. It is described as “Jacob’s trouble” by Jeremiah (30:7). When angel Gabriel reveals the seventy weeks prophecies to Daniel (Daniel 9:24) it is entirely from a Jewish perspective — “thy people" and “thy Holy City" are mentioned. Jesus’ Olivet Discourse also mentions the Sabbath and the “Elect". I believe the Great Tribulation is primarily for the Jews with a two-prong purpose: punishment and redemption. The unbelief of the Jews will be punished by great persecution metered out by the Anti-Christ and his cohorts, but it will also be a time of great evangelization with the end result being all of Israel will be saved. There will be 144,000 Jewish missionaries/evangelists preaching the gospel to the Jews (God even listed the twelve tribes to make sure we know these are Jewish evangelists, Rev.7:4-8 ). There will be two witnesses described in Rev. 11 sharing the gospel with the Jews. Finally, in an unprecedented manner, God uses an angel to preach the gospel in mid-air. (Rev. 14:6-7) Many Christians will be martyred and their souls cry out for justice (Rev. 6:10-11).
If we accept that the Great Tribulation is primarily for the Jews as their punishment and redemption, then we would not be so eager to participate in the Great Tribulation. Surely the bible warns Christians that there will be persecution and suffering. But we have sufficient suffering just living in the world. I do not find specific teachings to the churches by the apostles on how to deal with Great Tribulation. Jesus taught the Jews to run, but nowhere did Paul or other apostles address this matter in their epistles.
BELOW IS THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE BY THIS DEAR BROTHER :
APPENDIX 9 – A STUDY ON THE LAST DAYS
When Jesus proclaimed “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Matt.4:17), his listeners would have taken it largely to mean “Repent, for the Day of Judgment is at hand”. Without a Day of Judgment, the Gospel loses it force. Without it, the grace of God and the greatness of God’s love and glory are not fully manifest.
Events in the Last Days
While there is a considerable body of prophetic material in Scripture regarding the Last Days (the period leading up to the Day of Judgment), we will confine our study here to material in the New Testament:
Matt.24:2-51; 25:1-46; Mark 13:1-37; Luke 21:5-36; Acts 1:6-7, 11; 3:20-21;
Rom.11:25-27; 1 Cor.15:35-50; 51-52; Eph.1:10-11; 20-22; 2 Tim.3:1-12;
1 Thes.4:13-17; 5:1-4; 2 Thes.1:7-10; 2:1-12; 2 Pet.3:3-13; Book of Revelations.
A list of prophesied events (not necessarily in sequence) can be drawn from them:
The Coming of the False Christ and a Great Apostasy
A Great Tribulation
Persecution of Believers
The Redemption of Israel
The Second Coming of our Lord
The Gathering of His Elect and Resurrection of the Faithful
The General Resurrection (of both the righteous and the unrighteous)
Judgment by Christ (of angels and all men who have ever lived)
The righteous and the wicked each receiving his just deserts
The Coming of new heavens and a new earth
Of notice is Revelations Chapter 20, which is the only place in the Bible that speaks of the “thousand years” (often called millennium). It does so six times in six verses (v.2-7).
The introduction of the “thousand years” makes it far more difficult to reconcile the events of the Last Days. It, however, does echo OT portrayals of a time when the Messiah will reign after He appears; so we must admit it stands on good grounds.
Revelations Chapter 20 is also the only place that speaks of two separate resurrections, “the first Resurrection” (v.5-6) and a second one later (v.11-15).
You may argue that there are more than two Resurrections. There was one earlier, recorded in Matt.27:52-53, and then there is the resurrection of the two witnesses in Rev.11:3-12. Resurrection is clearly not a unitary event. It isn’t as clear-cut as a simple reading of John 5:28-29 or Acts 24:15 may suggest.
With this example (resurrection) before us, we deduce how ill-advised it is to build assumptions from superficial reading of any few verses. We also get a feeling that the course of things in the Last Days shall be very different from whatever we can imagine.
Unpredictability of the Last Days
We must be impressed with the length our Lord took to warn His disciples about the unpredictability of the Last Days (Matt.24:36-44; 25:13; Mark 13:32; Luke 12:39; 17:30; 21:34; Rev.3:3, 16:15). Paul (I Thess.5:2-4) and Peter (2 Pet.3:10) made similar warnings. Only a dull mind or an arrogant one would fail to take these warnings in.
In Acts 1:7, Jesus told the disciples “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority”. The “times” and ‘epochs” refer to the timing and sequence of the events, i.e. when or how the events will unfold. When we engage in speculation, we easily overlook why our Lord told us those prophecies in the first place.
Many False Alarms and Mixed Signals
Our Lord expressly told His disciples there will be many false alarms and mixed signals. There will be “wars and rumors of war”, catastrophes man-made and natural, false prophets and false Christs, persecution of the faithful, falling away of believers, times of tribulation for believers, and great tribulation for the whole world.
When there are many false alarms, the minds of people become numb. Even with great upheavals just over the horizon, most will carry on blithely and complacently. There will be no end of preachers who keep crying “End of the World”. But after you cry “Wolf” enough times, nobody heeds the Wolf when it does come.
Warnings to be on the Alert
Our Lord’s intention in telling us about the Last Days is unmistakable. It is for us “to be on the alert” (Matt.24:42; 25:13; Mark 13:35, 37; Luke 12:40; 21:36):
a) See that you are not frightened” (Matt.24:6);
b) Do not believe the many alarm-mongers (Matt.24:23, 26);
c) Do not be misled by the many false prophets (Matt.24:4-5; 11; 24);
d) Be on your guard; be prepared for persecution (Mark 13:9, 11);
e) Expect that many will fall away and betray one another (Matt.24:10);
f) Be ready to suffer and endure to the end (Matt.24:13);
g) Flee if you can (Matt.24:16-18);
h) Do not let your hearts be weighted down with the worries of life (Luke 21:34);
i) Pray at all times to have strength to escape all these things (Luke 21:36).
What is the Great Tribulation in Matt.24:21 and Mark 13:19?
The key passage in the NT about the Last Days is Jesus’ Temple Discourse (Matt.24; Mark 13; Luke 21), where Jesus spoke at length and quite privately to His disciples, a discussion initiated by their question about the future of the Jerusalem Temple.
The discourse mentioned a future Great Tribulation, the identification of which has stirred much debate. Specifically the question is: Does the great tribulation in Matthew 24 and Mark 13 refer to the Great Tribulation of the Last Days, or does it refer to an earlier event, namely the Jewish Revolt of AD 66-70 (which ended with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple)? Let us review the arguments for each view.
The arguments in favor of that Tribulation being the Jewish Revolt:
(a) The Context (Matt. 24:1-3)
The whole discourse was initiated by the topic of the Temple’s destruction.
(b) This generation will not pass away until all these things take place (Matt.24:34).
The Jewish Revolt was within their generation (also Mark 13:30; Luke 21:32).
(c) The details match Luke’s account.
1. Jerusalem surrounded by armies (Luke 21:20)
2. Great distress upon the land and wrath to this people (Luke 21:23)
3. This people will be led captive into all the nations (Luke 21:24)
4. Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles (Luke 21:24)
5. There will be a future “times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24)
(d) The specific references to “Judea” and “Sabbath” (Matt.14:16, 20).
Such references suggest a localized not world-wide event.
The arguments in favor of it being the Final Great Tribulation:
(a) It will be immediately followed by Jesus’ Second Coming (Matt.24:29-30).
(b) The Gospel must first be preached to all the nations (Mark 13:10; Matt.24:14).
(c) The severity of the Tribulation.
It will be “such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now,
nor ever shall” (Matt.24:21; Mark 13:19). Historically, there were other sieges of
Jerusalem, with severity not less than the one in AD 70.
(d) The Tribulation will be shortened for the sake of the elect (Matt.24:22).
Historically, Christians fled Jerusalem before the siege of AD 70.
So that siege had no specific need to be shortened “for the sake of the elect”.
(e) You will be hated by all nations (Matt.24:9), implying a world-wide occasion.
(f) The emergence of many false Christs (Matt.24:5, 24; Mark 13:6, 21-22).
The first serious claimant to be the Messiah was Bar Kochba of AD 132-135.
(g) Many will fall away and betray one another (Matt.24:10; Mark 13:12-13).
(h) There will be dramatic signs in the sky and on earth following the tribulation
(Matt.24:29-30; Mark 13:24-25; Luke 21:25-26).
The arguments for both views are equally good. The account in Luke seems to favor the Jewish Revolt, while those in Matthew and Mark favor the Final Tribulation.
The Disciples’ Question is Entangled
Returning to the disciples’ question, which started the Discourse, “When will these things be? What will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?” (Matt.24:3), we discover a problem. It wasn’t actually one question but three:
1. When will these things (the destruction of the Temple) be?
2. What will be the sign of your coming?
3. What will be the sign of the End of the Age?
The disciples assumed, wrongly, that they will happen together. Why did Jesus not edify them by disentangling those events in His answer?
There is Multi-Fulfillment in Biblical Prophecy
This is likely one instance of multi-fulfillment in Biblical prophecy. The tribulation of the Jewish Revolt and the Final Tribulation had elements in common.
With our modern minds, we think exclusively: If a prophecy refers to one instance, it cannot refer to another. But this is not the way of Biblical prophecy. The words can be applicable partially to one (or more) occasion and fully to a culminating one.
What does our Lord expect of us?
Beyond such technicality, we sense that Jesus felt no need to disentangle the Disciples’ questions. In fact, He doesn’t seem to care too much whether the Disciples and future disciples after them will face the Final Tribulation or some lesser Tribulation. He asks the same of all His disciples, whatever the case may be. He asks of us attitudes and a mentality that can weather any Tribulation.
Do Believers have to suffer the Great Tribulation?
There are some who teach that believers will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord before the Great Tribulation. This teaching has won a wide following. It is a relatively recent invention, not found in early church teaching. If this teaching is correct, believers will escape the Great Tribulation, which will fall only on non-believers or (in a later refinement) late-coming believers.
If that teaching is true, Christians shouldn’t worry about the Great Tribulation. Even if it happens in our generation, we would be out of it before it begins. This teaching feeds a complacency which is quite the opposite of our Lord’s repeated bidding for us to be on the alert. It seems tailor-made for an affluent society, for a Christianity which is painless and prosperity-minded, where you enjoy only the positive aspects of God’s blessings without its negative aspects, such as the atrocious demand for a readiness to suffer. Do you smell a rat somewhere?
We are in the Last Days. It is always a season for the testing of men’s souls, whether the Great Tribulation falls on us or not. What the Lord seeks in us are attitudes and way of living which are in readiness for a Time of Troubles.
Jesus told His disciples that believers will be persecuted on account of His name (Matt.24:9; Mark 13:9, 11; Luke 21:12-17). There will be a time when “many will fall away and betray one other” (Matt.24:10; Mark 13:12). There will be a season in which “the one who endures to the end, it is he who shall be saved” (Matt.24:13; Luke 21:19). “Keep on the alert at all times, praying in order that you may have strength to escape all these things” (Luke 21:36). If you reply that we probably do not need these things because the Tribulation may not fall on us, just as it didn’t happen to so many previous generations, then you miss His point altogether.
Will some believers escape the Great Tribulation even it is in their Generation?
Rev.3:10 gives a promise to some believers, who had already been through testing, that they will be kept “from the hour of testing, which is about to come upon the whole world”. So there will be some who will be exempt. By implication, most will not be. If, as some teach, all believers will escape the Great Tribulation, why should there be such a promise? Nor would there be a need for the promise that “for the sake of the elect those days shall be cut short” (Matt.24:22; Mark 13:20).
As to the matter of believers being caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord, Paul stated clearly that only after the resurrection of those who had died shall the remaining be “caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord” (I Thess.4:15-17). We shall leave it at that. If the Lord wanted us to know more, He would have told us.
Interpretation of Scripture is a Test of Personal Integrity.
Details on the Last Days are really quite sparse in the Bible, leaving room for expositors to exercise their fertile imagination. Some teachers feel that when things are not clear- cut, they are at liberty to cherry-pick any interpretation they happen to fancy. Our motive in such choices is a test of personal integrity. Personal integrity decides whether the Lord will entrust a servant with further things, or take away what has been previously given.
A cardinal principle for Biblical interpretation is that it must be consistent with the original intent. For the Last Days, our Lord’s warnings for us to be on the alert are so unmistakable; any interpretation which implicitly teaches otherwise is suspect. “No prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation” (2 Pet.1:20).
Learning from the Case of the First Coming
Accounts like Matt.2:1-6 and John 1:19-21 prove that, before the birth of Jesus, Jewish scribes and priests had been hard at work, carefully collating Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah. But however careful their scholarship, they couldn’t possibly surmise there would be a First and a Second Coming, not just one. Even were they told, they could never tell which prophecy referred to the First and which the Second.
The prophecies also held conflicting elements within. Is the Messiah the Suffering Servant or a victorious all-conquering Ruler? Are they two different persons? Which one is the Son of David? How can the Son of David be the Son of God? What about the Prophet that Moses prophesied about (Deut.18:15; Acts 3:22-23; 7:37; John 1:21)? Where does he come in? Is the Prophet yet another individual? And how about the coming of Elijah (Mal.4:5; Matt.11:14; 17:10-13 Mark 9:11-13; John 1:21)?
If you know anything about scholars, you can be sure that the rabbis, scribes and priests must have formulated theories and scenarios to fit the disparate pieces together. Those rabbis and scribes had minds as good as our modern-day theologians. But from the outset, all their theories were doomed to be wrong. Vital details were denied them.
Vital Details have also been withheld from us.
In Rev.10:4, John wrote “I was about to write; and I heard a voice from heaven saying Seal up the things spoken and do not write them”. Vital details have been withheld from us. The picture we are given is purposely incomplete, and likely critically incomplete.
Jesus’ said in His Temple Discourse: “Of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone” (Matt.24:36; Mark 13:32). Is it not clear that the Father has things deeply concealed?
What God has Concealed, Man cannot Reveal
What God has concealed, can any man by his cleverness reveal? I don’t think so. In the Book of Revelations, God gives us pictures of events at the End of Days. They are veiled glimpses God considers adequate for us, adequate to understand something of what is to be and the severity of the Troubles. They are not meant to satiate our limitless curiosity.
Today there is a whole industry in interpreting the Book of Revelations founded on suspicious presumptions. They presume that all events are described, and that the sequence of mentioning corresponds to the order of happening. There is also prevalent an insistence that what Revelations give are not veiled metaphoric pictures but realistic futuristic “newsreels”. It is strange that realistic newsreels would show future warriors fighting on horseback, using bows and arrows. Our would-be prophets do concede that some parts in Revelations are metaphoric; so why not all? Only they can tell.
Do Not choose from Any of their Theories
You can pick up any number of books on popular prophecy and what not, and find many theories about events in the Last Days. There are pre-millennialism, post-millennialism, a-millennialism, classical pre-millennialism, modern dispensational pre-millennialism, and so on.
One thing seems certain. All those theories will prove to be wrong.
How can all of them be wrong? Don’t they cover all the possibilities? They don’t. They can’t. They ignore the fact that vital details have been withheld from us. When you work with faulty data, is it surprising that you come up with faulty results?
The proper course is to be obedient to the spirit of our Lord’s words. We should refrain from choosing any of the artificial theories that are on offer. If we choose any of them, our minds will be fixated by the picture it projects, and we will likely not recognize the real signs when they do come.
What if the Great Tribulation doesn’t fall on our Generation?
We shouldn’t be over-concerned about the “true” Great Tribulation. Whether it falls on us or not, we are not exempt from what the Lord asks of us. However unpalatable, unfashionable or offensive it sounds, a mind prepared for suffering, persecution and hardship is what it is about (Phil.1:29; Rom.8:17; Matt.5:3-11; 2 Tim.3:12). “Since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind” (I Pe.4:1).
Teaching on suffering is not popular, was not popular and will not be popular. But such is the stuff discipleship is made of.
The one whose mind is inured towards suffering, he is the one who overcomes any obstacle. The one whose mind fears suffering, he is beaten even before the fight begins.
The one whose mind fears hardship, nothing can be expected of him other than self- indulgence; the Lord has no use for such servants (Matt.25:24-30).
On the other end, there are preachers who urge us to live each day as if it were our last. The idea is high-sounding but wrong-headed. We should live each day seeking God’s will and doing God’s will (Matt.6:10).
We cannot count on Time to Re-establish our Relationship with God
A mistake people commonly make is to assume they can remain largely unchanged. It is never true. We can be debased by a soft life till we have no stomach for any fight. We are always under pressure to adopt the ways of the world, especially when we have ones we need to care for and a responsibility for their long-term welfare. We imagine we have time ahead to remake ourselves or re-establish our relationship with God. This is exactly what our Lord warned us against.
Read People and their Teachings by their spirit
When we firmly grasp what the Lord asks of us, we can read people and their teachings by their spirit.
There is and will be a profusion of false teachings in these Last Days. We have to test all teachings by Scripture, not by superficial reading of a couple of verses, but through a broad understanding of Scripture. When you have a healthy relationship with the Lord and a well-founded sense of Scripture, you can read the spirit of a teaching even before detailed debate. We ask what the teaching attempts to appeal in us. A teaching which appeals to our self-centeredness or aversion to hardship, or suggests we can just follow our own hearts, is immediately suspect. God does not pamper His children or His servants, nor allow us to self-pamper. Teachings that emphasize blessings and dismiss suffering, or insinuate that we should fit into society must be examined critically (Rom.12:2; John 15:19; I John 4:5).
In this world, people are judged by their resume, the name they have established, the enterprises they command, their appeal in society, their force of character, their artistic or technical or business accomplishments, the claims they make and, last but not least, their physical attractiveness. Christians have taken to these too.
Teachers will come “in sheep’s clothing” (Matt.7:15), and increasingly today, armed with all kinds of accolades and claims, theological and academic accreditation, roll-calls of achievements, eloquence and showmanship. Many will be led astray, who measure people solely by these things (Mark 13:22). We are to read people by their spirit. We ask what they seek and what they seek to appeal in us (Matt.7:15-20).
In Paul’s parting address to the elders of Ephesus (Acts 20:18-35), he warned them about what weighed heavily on his mind – that false teachers will “come in” (Acts 20:29) and “arise from among your own selves” (20:30). If you are a Christian teacher speaking on the Last Days, these too should be on your heart and mind – false teachers, false teaching and the urgent need of Christians to acquire spiritual discernment. They should take priority in your teaching. Matters such as seeing omens over the horizon, how the Lord will appear on His Second Coming, the Rapture of believers, and various conjectures about the Final Days should take a very secondary place.
Paul gave this advice “Refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels” (2 Tim.2:23). Excessive attention on eschatology in the pulpit, with a dearth of teaching on the Gospel, is a sign of ill-health in a church; the Gospel has lost it vitality and has become stale. “The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but wanting to have their ears tickled” (2 Tim.4:3). Entertainment has replaced spiritual nourishment.
The Urgency for Spiritual Discernment
Jesus and Paul warned the disciples to prepare for false teachers and false teachings. By the time of the letters of James, Peter, John, and Jude, false teachings had materialized into a serious threat. The Book of Revelations is full of allusions on the many ways believers could be and would be led astray.
Why do we find little urgency in the churches today for acquiring spiritual discernment? If teachers don’t see a problem, there can be no urgency; or they can’t teach spiritual discernment if they don’t have it themselves. Believers have become benumbed by worn-out homilies and lifeless preaching. Then there are those who lull them, saying welcome things to wishful minds. Many prefer it this way. You will be a pariah if you go around telling people they are not wearing any clothes.
Spiritual discernment doesn’t just drop into your lap. It has to be actively sought, prayed for (Phil.1:9-10; Eph.1:17; 3:16; Col.1:9; Matt.6:22-23; 7:7-11; Luke 11:9-13; James 1:5) and proven through testing and spiritual calibration (Rom.12:2; Heb.5:14). In the Last Days, in which we reside, spiritual discernment is at a premium if we are no longer to be “tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming” (Eph.4:14). It is critical for “the building up of the body of Christ, until we all attain the unity of faith” (Eph.4:13).
Instances from History
There are known past instances when Christians identified their experience with the Great Tribulation. One was the persecution of Christians by Nero. There was the Black Death, where roughly a third of the population in Europe [figures unknown elsewhere] died from the plague (cf. Rev.9:18). Another one, in the dying days of the Ottoman Empire, was the “Genocide” in which Armenian Christians suffered horribly, including a choice of death or renouncing their faith. In our generation, you can find Syrian Christians who underwent harrowing adversities. These are but a few mere mentions among many.
Those who passed through them considered they have had Tribulation in full measure. Do not be so quick to conclude they were all mistaken. That would be taking the worth out from under the lessons of Revelations. By adhering to a narrow interpretation, you reduce Revelations to an object reserved for prurient or insouciant interest.
Learn from Joel’s prophecy (Joel 2:28-32), quoted by Peter at Pentecost (Acts 2:14-21). eter said the prophecy was fulfilled by what happened (Acts 2:16). Yet when we look at the prophecy carefully, we must conclude it is still unfulfilled; the “wonders in the sky above and signs on the earth beneath” (Acts 2:19) did not occur. This is an example of Biblical thinking: A prophecy can be already fulfilled and still remains to be fulfilled.
Joyful and Triumphant
Why was the Book of Revelations written? What were the problems it addressed? There were discouragement and demoralization from external persecution on one end. There were perversions from false teaching and tolerance of depravity on the other. In between were complacency, apathy, lifelessness and spiritual blindness among believers and church leaders. They were problems from all across the spectrum.
The antidote offered is a peek into the future, into a final crisis and climax. In the crisis and the events leading to it, there are tribulations described, far more severe and unimaginable than any being experienced. In the climax, our Lord will come through in His glory, in the final arrival of the Kingdom of God. Sharing in His glory will be those who have proved faithful and steadfast, in the ultimate fulfillment of all our hopes.
Through these glimpses, extremely limited and symbolically portrayed as they may be, our perspective of ourselves and the Church are fundamentally altered. We are being taught to see things from a broad, long-term and transcendent perspective.
What if we do not actually participate in the final crisis? The answer is that you need to understand the message spiritually. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev.2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). There are, even in our generation, those who have gone through cataclysmic hell. They would consider what they went through tribulation enough for any mortal, never mind the final one or not.
Whatever the world throws at us, whatever the present difficulties we face, whether in sickness or in health, however we agonize over the pathetic state of the churches, ultimately our Lord will be triumphant in His glory, even the glory before the foundation of the world (John 17:24). If we love Him, “faithful until death” (Rev.2:10), and become the ones “who overcome” (Rev.2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21), we too shall emerge joyful and triumphant.