The Perilous Times of Timothy

            The perilous times of Timothy present another scriptural inconsistency with a pretribulation rapture scenario. 

            Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:1:

“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.” 

            At the time of this epistle, Timothy is not a tribulation saint as understood in our modern times.  Timothy is not a member of a distinctive group of people who will be left behind after the rapture occurs.  Timothy is a member of the one and only main body of the Christian church in existence, when Paul wrote Timothy this letter. 

            In the first-century, there is no division between Christians in-good-standing and some future, soon-to-be converted group of post-rapture tribulation saints. 

            Within the contemplation of Paul and the early church, there is no conception of something called a post-rapture tribulation saint. 

            Timothy is half Gentile and half Hebrew.  Timothy’s father is a Greek, and his mother is a Jew (Acts 16:1). 

            Yet in this address to Timothy by Paul, who understood better than anyone the subtle nuances between New Testament Gentile and Jew (Gal. 2:11-19), we see not the slightest hint of any dispensational differentiation by Paul in the practical application of this 2 Timothy 3:1 end-times prophesy, regarding this dual nature of Timothy. 

            If the question of a divided application of end-times prophetic scriptures to church-age Gentiles and Messianic Christian Jews, before and after a rapture, was ever to be addressed the Bible, assuming such a question existed, we would think this was an excellent opportunity for Paul to clear up any confusion and establish sound doctrine in applying end-times prophecies to his close friend and protégé Timothy, having inherited the combined dual ancestry of Gentile and Jew.    

            If the rapture occurs in the first-century, then Timothy will be raptured.  If the rapture occurs in Timothy’s lifetime, he will be one of those taken as described in Matthew 24:40-41. 

            Yet Paul addresses this particular end-times prophecy to Timothy, as if Timothy is or is soon to become a tribulation saint. 

            Whatever Paul is referring to as “perilous times,” they directly apply to Timothy.  These perilous times do not leap-frog over Timothy one generation to a future group of first-century people unsaved at that time, who would become converted to Christianity as a result of discovering they were left behind after the rapture. 

            Paul’s prophecy is aimed directly and squarely at Timothy, a born-again, Spirit-filled, first-century Christian. 

            If Timothy is a scripturally viable rapture candidate, then according to Paul’s prophecy here, Timothy is apparently also a scripturally viable candidate to experience perilous end-times.  

            Because these uniquely perilous times did not actually occur during Timothy’s lifetime, this prophecy in its composite form has continued by extension to each and every succeeding generation of Christians down to our present time. 

            Nowhere in scripture that I can find, does it allow us to insert a discontinuous break in the application of this prophecy, merely because it was written so long ago. 

            This warning of Paul to Timothy still applies to us today as if Paul were here now speaking to us in person.      

            If this prophecy referred to a future period of time immediately after Timothy was raptured, yet with a post-rapture first-century world still in-place, then Paul’s sentence does not make much sense. 

            This prophecy is directed toward the one and only full-sized Christian church that was on the earth at the time of Paul, because Paul was writing this warning to Timothy, a younger contemporary of Paul as a future reference and guide toward an upcoming actual time in Timothy’s life. 

            By continuous extension, this as-yet-unfulfilled prophetic warning similarly applies with all of its force to the contemporary Christian church on the earth today.

            For the unbeliever, there is no such thing as a non-perilous time.  Living on the edge of dying in sin, and passing on into an eternity in hell, is always perilous. 

            How can the last days become any more perilous for the unbeliever than normal times? 

            Again, in this 2 Timothy 3:1 verse, Paul says that “perilous times shall come.” 

            If some people say that these perilous times for unbelievers refer to receiving the mark of the beast, then this situates these perilous times described by Paul for Timothy right in the middle of the period of the Antichrist. 

            We cannot have it both ways. 

            Timothy, the first-century church, and Paul’s perilous times all go together. 

            If Timothy is on the scene for the perilous times foretold by Paul, then the times must be perilous for somebody, otherwise they would not in fact be perilous. 

            If Timothy is to be raptured as one of the faithful in his lifetime as anticipated by the early church, yet also experience perilous times, then the rapture slices up these perilous times into two parts. 

            Some portion of Paul’s perilous times, unspecified in length, must occur before Timothy is raptured.  Otherwise, Timothy is not physically present for these perilous times, and Paul is directing his warning to the wrong person. 

            Conversely, if the times are unusually perilous for unbelievers because of the presence on earth of the Antichrist, then Timothy is alive on earth for some portion of this same period of time, because Paul addresses this prophecy to Timothy. 

            If the times are also unusually and noticeably perilous for Christians sharing the gospel message, then what possible change in the outward world environment would create this to the extreme point that Paul would address this issue in a letter to Timothy, other than some singularly calamitous cascade of events leading up to the tribulation, or the actual momentous Great Tribulation period itself?  

            Another reason why I do not believe that the rapture will occur at the beginning of the tribulation period, is that Daniel’s seven-year tribulation is the final period of time for everythingin terms of the old- world system. 

            When the time finally comes that there are only seven years of human earthly history remaining, it would certainly be imperative and incumbent upon God to shake-up the world as described in the book of Revelation.

            The reasons behind this shake-up are two-fold, and they are enormous. 

            The first reason is that God would not want the last generation of unbelievers, with only seven years remaining on the clock, to be mistakenly focused on the non-essentials like what color to paint the kitchen, or whether to buy or lease our next automobile, or which college law school our granddaughter should apply to. 

            These otherwise legitimate life-issues today would be rendered entirely superfluous by virtue of the short end-times period remaining on the earth. 

            The second reason for a major shake-up by God as described in end-times biblical prophecy, is to demonstrate that the Antichrist, posing as the Messiah and savior of the world using fair speech, lofty promises, and intimidating threats, is in fact a worthless counterfeit god-man, an imposter who cannot control the catastrophic natural events or the health-related judgment plagues that will be occurring in the world. 

            Only the real God can supernaturally intervene in our natural world.  The catastrophic magnitude of the events occurring on the planet during the Great Tribulation would be God’s unselfish and loving way of exposing the lie and the emptiness of the high-sounding speech of the Antichrist. 

            This would be God’s final, emphatic, and unambiguous attempt to capture the attention of the last inhabitants on this planet as to the truly fragile nature of our existence and the genuine reality of our dependence on our Creator God. 

            At issue is the fundamental difference between “self-made men and women” and “God-made men and women,” which has been at the center of the debate in God’s outreach throughout human redemptive history. 

            The tribulation period is an environment of imposed dependence upon God for temporary physical and eternal spiritual survival, and forces a decision for or against God upon every inhabitant on the earth. 

            When the time comes that there are only seven years of time remaining, there is no point to God holding back or moderating His final appeal to mankind.

Some Problems with a Pretribulation Timed Rapture

            In my view, one difficulty with the concept of the timing of the rapture occurring at the beginning of Daniel’s seven-year tribulation period is an extension of the Matthew 24:9-10 verses:

            “Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you; and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.  And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.” 

            My conception of the tribulation saints (those Christians converted after the rapture), are as a tightly focused group of believers totally dedicated to their last chance at serving Jesus Christ unconditionally, having missed the rapture. 

            This would be the case whether they experience exclusive domain over the last remaining evangelical outreach on earth for all seven, six, five, four, three, or even the final two years during Daniel’s seven-year tribulation period. 

            This would be the case regardless of the makeup of the tribulation saints, as Gentiles and Messianic Jewish Christians

            This hard-core group of tribulation saints does not seem susceptible to large numbers of them being offended as a result of persecution (Mt. 13:21), or betraying other tribulation saints, or hating each other. 

            These prophetic words of Jesus Christ would only seem to apply instead to a large, widely mixed group of born-again Christians who had in their numbers a sizable percentage of nominal, unconverted adherents who could easily fall into becoming offended, betraying real Christians, and living in an attitude of hatred and disappointment as a result of the end-times evil (Mt. 24:7-13). 

            This would more accurately describe the required blend of the genuine Christian church, combined with the apostate church, which we see in the world today, and which would appear transparently inseparable and indistinguishable to the undiscerning secular world before the start of the last day’s persecution and tribulation. 

            This would be more consistent with Matthew 24:10 saying “then many shall be offended,” implying that there is a large enough beginning sample of people for many to be offended, and conversely for many genuine Christians not to be offended, to comprise the whole group. 

            This would also set-up the basis for a clearer understanding of the falling away (2 Thes. 2:3).  

            The tribulation saints by contrast, whether Jew or Gentile, would be almost exactly like the Christians of the first two and one-half centuries in terms of fidelity to Jesus Christ.  They would be entirely new converts to Christ, narrowly focused on their mission, uniformly dedicated, fearless, committed, fiercely loyal to one another, and living with the constant threat of discovery, exposure, and imminent martyrdom. 

            If this is the case, then these Matthew 24:9-10 verses would therefore appear to be inconsistent with the currently popular teaching of an early rapture of the church, prior to the full seven-year tribulation scenario. 

            If these Matthew 24:9-10 verses fall within the time-span of the seven-year tribulation period of great persecution of Christians, and the only new Christians constituted after a pretribulation rapture are this group of tribulation saints, who are not plausible candidates for betraying and hating one another, then something here is clearly amiss. 

            The dispensational approach has newly converted Jews as a main contingent of the post-rapture tribulation saints who evangelize the world. 

            But this formulation is inconsistent with Matthew 24:10, which expressly states that many will be offended and hate one another. 

            This cannot apply to newly converted Jewish-Christian believers, converted by as-yet unknown supernatural revelations of Jesus Christ to Jews worldwide, similar to Joseph in Egypt revealing himself to his brethren. 

            The revelation that Jesus Christ is not just a God of the Gentiles, but is in fact their long-promised Messiah, will engender the most fiercely dedicated fidelity to the gospel message of Christ soaring above any persecution that would cause others to become offended.  

            After a pretribulation rapture of genuine Christians, there would not be a blended mixture of hard-core tribulation saints in close association with nominal adherents in a worshipping fellowship. 

            There would be nothing in common between these two groups after the rapture to bring them together in fellowship. 

            After the rapture, whenever it occurs, the tribulation saints from then-on-after will be a distinct and isolated group notable for their purity, zeal, commitment, and dedication of purpose. 

            The required diverse combination of a large number of genuine Christians mixed with a large number of nominal churchgoers, forMatthew 24:9-10 to occur within the same space of time, will simply not exist after a world-emptying pretribulation rapture taking all Spirit-born Christians off the earth. 

            Therefore, either there is some extremely intense persecution occurring pretribulation for the main Christian church prior to the rapture, causing this dissension and culling-out within the “mixed multitude,” or conversely there is a continuous uninterrupted existence on earth of the combined main body of the Christian church plus the apostate church, extending and overlapping into the tribulation period itself for some period of time. 

            Some large group of people (“many”) identified in these biblical verses must betray and hate other people in the group, for this very specific and unambiguous prophecy to be fulfilled.  

            The persecution that causes this internal dissension, and the large group of people who break-away to become disloyally offended and hateful, must both be in-place at the same time-period.             

            If the hard-core, last-chance group of tribulation saints would probably not be the people to react this way to the life-and-death trials of the end-times, then it is logical to conclude that these verses apply to a time-period when a large mixed group of people in the Christian church and in the apostate church are still together. 

            This then pushes the rapture forward into and beyond the tribulation starting point for some unspecified period of time having this intense persecution and tribulation, which would trigger the events as described in Matthew 24:9-10. 

            If tribulation saints are not plausible candidates for consideration as the uncommitted people who will fall away to betray and hate one another during the end-times persecution, and since Matthew 24:10 specifically says that many shall be offended, then some of the pieces of the pretribulation rapture puzzle are not fitting together here. 

            Toss-in a large group of fiercely loyal, newly converted Jewish Christians into the mix, and the rapture cannot plausibly occur at the beginning of the great tribulation.   

            A mixed mass of people and a period of persecution must be a couplet linked together concurrently on one or the other side of both the rapture and the tribulation. 

            The rapture removes the Christian church, leaving only the future, newly converted, die-hard tribulation saints. 

            Persecution sifts-out and divides the offended from the un-offended. 

            The events of both the rapture and some form of persecution divide the same identical large body of people into two distinct halves…those raptured and those not raptured…and those offended and those not offended. 

            Intense, sifting-out persecution cannot overtake a main Christian church raptured away into heaven, isolated forever from nominal churchgoers on earth. 

            It would therefore appear that a large disparate body of people and an intense period of persecution must be together, either before or after the rapture. 

            This means that either persecution shifts backwards in time, before the church is raptured, affecting both the genuine church and the apostate church together in time as one large group. 

            Or this requires the presence on earth of the genuine church combined with the apostate church as one large group, shifting forward in time into persecution/tribulation. 

            The unique nature of the resiliency, steadfastness, and narrowly committed exclusivity of the group of people called tribulation saints, who are probably not susceptible to “many betraying and hating each other,” is an important key to our understanding of the timing of the rapture. 

            It appears then that the rapture cannot occur in isolation. 

            The rapture cannot occur outside of a close relationship to an intense level of end-times persecution and tribulation, that would be so great as to noticeably split the “church” in two as described in Matthew 24:9-10. 

            After the rapture, after the close of the church age, the only Christians remaining on earth to the end of time are newly converted post-tribulation saints, and they do not fit into the description of potentially offended people and the events of Matthew 24:9-10. 

            After the rapture, tribulation saints are not susceptible to becoming offended by persecution or adversity (Mt. 13:21). 

            To fulfill Matthew 24:9-10, an unprecedented level of intense persecution has to find and overtake the main Christian church for some period of time before the rapture occurs, and one solution to this riddle is for the rapture itself to shift forward in time into the Great Tribulation. 

            If a satisfactory alternate explanation is to move some intense period of persecution into the time-slot immediately preceding the start of the Great Tribulation, then why go to such dispensational premillennial efforts to sustain a pretribulation rapture interpretation? 

            The intensity of the sifting-out split of the genuine and the apostate “church” through some form of worldwide persecution (Mt. 24:9-10) pretribulation, is then made equivalent to the magnitude of the actual Great Tribulation itself. 

            Removing the Christian church from the Great Tribulation through a pretribulation rapture, then loses its meaning, purpose, and appeal because of the need for something equally ominous to split the church into the offended and non-offended according to Matthew 24:9-10 and 2 Thessalonians 3:1-3. 

The End-Times

“Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is there anything too hard for me?”                                                            (Jer. 32:26)

            During the first few centuries of the Christian faith, believers were subjected to periods of intense persecutions within the Roman Empire that were designed by Satan to wipe-out Christianity. 

            To be a Christian during these times often meant arrest and brief imprisonment, shortly followed by martyrdom.  New converts to the Christian faith lived under the threat of having only a few years or even months to enjoy a walk of faith before they were captured by the authorities and given the option of renouncing their faith or suffering the consequences. 

            History tells us that the steadfastness and courage of the small but resolute Christian communities that were scattered throughout the Roman Empire during these times of persecution, won converts among the populace who admired the resolute demonstration of the Christian’s convictions compared to the emptiness of their own polytheistic religions based upon idol worship and mythology.

            One of the effective lies that Satan concocted against Christians in these first centuries was the idea that the troubles and problems these societies were facing were caused in part by the stubborn refusal of the Christians to worship the pantheon of pagan gods that everyone else accepted and worshipped. 

            The civil authorities often used the Christians as convenient scape-goats to blame all sorts of government and social problems on. 

            Nero, the Roman emperor blamed the great fire in Rome on the Christians. 

            The Christian communion service or “love feast,” as it was sometimes called, was slandered as a form of cannibalism. 

            Christians were seen by the authorities as social outsiders who did not attend the temple services and thus brought down the disfavor of the gods upon their societies. 

            The real truth was that, apart from not participating in the temple services to worship pagan gods, the Christians were among the most law abiding and peaceable citizens in all of the Roman Empire. 

            History records that Christians were actually known within their small communities as being sociably charitable to needy non-Christian strangers and Christians alike, and to women and children, without prejudice. 

            This unselfish character trait that exhibited in action the love of Jesus Christ, enabled Christians to stand-out favorably among the people who personally knew them or knew of them.

            But this real truth about the first-century Christians did not prevent the misinformation campaign and persecution by the official government authorities.

            The question may reasonably be asked, did not God love these early Christians who were crucified, burned at the stake, forced to fight gladiators, and killed by wild beasts in coliseum arenas throughout the empire, at various times during the first two centuries of the faith? 

            This is an area where the world has no understanding or concept of the Christian experience. 

            These early Christians, some newborn to the faith for only a short time, thought it a privilege to suffer and die for the Savior who had given His life on the cross for them (Acts 5:41).  They knew without a doubt that Jesus was the Son of God and Savior of the world, and could not dream of renouncing Him before the Roman authorities or pagan temple priests to save their lives. 

            And the early Christians would not compromise the exclusivity of their allegiance to Jesus Christ as the only real God. 

            They would not agree to the very reasonable (from a worldly pragmatic standpoint) request of the authorities to worship and honor the pagan gods along with Christ. 

            The forgiveness of their sins and the new born-again spiritual life they enjoyed were of more value to the early Christian than anything else on earth. 

            This stubborn adherence to their Christian faith was incomprehensible to the worldly Greek/Roman culture of that day. 

            Christians sang songs of praise to God with uplifted arms as lions and tigers were unleashed upon them in the coliseum arena.  Brave Christian men came out during the daytime to walk the streets of Rome, risking capture and certain death in the arena, to procure provisions for the people living under the city in the catacombs. 

            This sometimes went on for periods of years during the great persecutions, during the reigns of some of the Roman emperors.  All of this is actual recorded history.  We can visit the Coliseum and the catacombs in Rome today.

            We do not fully understand why God allowed the life-plans of many of these early-century Christians to be so short-lived and to end in violent deaths. 

            These Christians evidently had enough internal peace and the courage of their convictions to stand-up and proclaim their faith against the onslaught of the entire Roman Empire.  They planted their flag of allegiance on the hill called Calvary and to their king and savior Jesus Christ, and would not be moved from this position. 

            What if they had caved-in to the pressures of death in the arena, and considered their lives here on earth more important than standing-up for their faith in the face of such relentless persecution?  The answer is that the Christian faith may not have survived. 

            With deadly precision Satan knew who to single-out as scapegoats, because he knows who the children of light are. 

            The Roman Empire did not aimlessly waste its time persecuting groups of people like the Macedonians, or Egyptians, or Spaniards, because these people belonged in good standing to the everyday worldly empire of greed, selfishness, ambition, and sinful pleasure that Satan controls. 

            The early Christians were persecuted because they were the New Testament church, the light of the world (Mt. 5:16), the Bride of Christ. 

            If Satan could get the early church to implode through persecution, he might impede or stop altogether the spiritual progress God was making in the world. 

            If Satan could not defeat Jesus at Gethsemane and Calvary, he might defeat God through these early Christians by intimidation and fear. 

            But God countered this evil strategy of Satan by empowering the unwavering and steadfast witness of the Christian’s faith in the face of this persecution. 

            Today we (in the wealthy and developed nations of the world) look back at the faithfulness of these early Christians with pride and celebration, yet their uncompromising courage and faith are difficult for us to relate to in our present-day, more normal pursuit of a peaceful and productive life. 

            If the modern-day Christian church is not raptured pretribulation, and experiences persecution in the last days, Satan may pull-out of his bag of lies this old lie that worked so well against Christians in the first centuries of the faith.  

            Christians may again be unjustly blamed for the problems of the world, this time by refusing to go along with everyone else and accept the mark of the beast. 

            This acceptance of the mark of the beast will be considered so reasonable and sensible by the world, in order to solve whatever political or economic problems exist at that time, that the stubborn refusal of Christians to go along will again be viewed as anti-social and subversive. 

            The mark of the beast will be a fallen, corrupted, worldly counterfeit version of the true spiritual unity between believers when we are “in Christ.” 

            The Christian’s discerning choice of the higher unity of the bond of the Spirit in love, and the rejection of the lower worldly counterfeit solution of the mark of the beast established through coercion and threats will not be understood nor embraced by the world. 

            There must be some motivating rationale for the whole world hating Christians as described in Matthew 24:9 “Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you; and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.” 

            This scripture cannot be addressed to the early Christian church, because the next verse says “And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another” (Mt. 24:10). 

            This did not occur among Christians in the first three centuries.  History tells us for the most part, at least up until the Decian persecution of 250 A.D. and the Great Persecution of Diocletian from 303 to 313 A.D., that Christians remained faithful to one another during the periods of intense persecution under the Roman emperors. 

            The bonds of friendship, loyalty, and love between Christians often grew stronger during times of persecution. 

            This backdrop provides historical context for a critique of one important cross-related scriptural problem with the concept that the Christian church will be raptured pretribulation.

Unity Forged Through Common Challenge

            The present-day Christian church has lost its way.  We are lost in the factions, schisms, and divisions of denominations and disagreements. 

            In this regard we are “yet carnal” (1 Cor. 3:3).  The early church warned us against this.  Somewhere along the past twenty centuries we lost the unity of brotherly love we are supposed to exemplify, exhibit, and enjoy as patterned for us in the Trinity. 

            As a group, we are currently as lost as the Israelites were as slaves in Egypt, or as lost as Joseph was as a prisoner in Pharaoh’s dungeon, or as lost as David was as King Saul chased him all over the countryside, or as momentarily lost as any of the other positive characters in the Bible waiting to find their true selves within the life-scripts composed by God for them. 

            This is not the Christian church that we are supposed to be. 

            We need outside supernatural help once again from God, to step-up into the challenge of a God-composed tribulation script of events designed to forge us into becoming the body of believers we were intended to be. 

            Just like the Israelites needed the parting of the Red Sea to jump-start them along their way to fulfilling their God-intended true destiny as the nation of Israel, the modern-day Christian church needs the intensity of first-century persecution and tribulation to focus on what is really important and to discard the unessential differences that divide us. 

            The shared experience of the adversity of the great tribulation is probably the only viable means that God can use to help the Christian church find itself, to capture its destiny and define itself as the expression of the character of Jesus Christ, in the purity of unselfish sacrificial love for each other and for the world. 

            This is the heartfelt final prayer of Jesus recorded in John 17, that His church of believers would become as one in the unity and bond of love like He and the Father are one.

            One of the reasons that the Christian church must face-off against the Antichrist during at least some of the tribulation is that this is the final opportunity for Christians to exhibit the Christ-like character trait of unselfish, sacrificial, un-offended love in opposition to nakedly exposed raw hatred. 

            Unlike the Israelites at the parting of the Red Sea, who were at the beginning of their character growth journey through the desert toward the Promised Land, the end-times Christian will be set-apart and remarkable by the advanced character trait of being able to powerfully love the unsaved and unbelieving last generation of people in the world, without any thought or care for their own personal safety, welfare, or social acceptance. 

            The genuine Christian in the last days will stand-out for their ability to not be offended by evil, persecution, and tribulation in the face of their calling to preach the gospel message of peace amidst the massive final deceptions of Satan through the Antichrist. 

            One of the remarkable and distinctive characteristics of the divine love of God is that it does not exclude people for any reason (Mt. 9:10-11), but instead reaches out with the transforming power of truth and genuine care to deliver people from their bondage to sin. 

            “Love the sinner but hate the sin” has been the working motto for genuine Christian service and outreach to a lost world for two thousand years. 

            This is one of the defining, authenticating attributes of the genuine Christian disciple that cannot be faked or counterfeited in the heat of persecution and tribulation (Acts 14:22; 1 Thes. 1:6-8). 

            Pure divine love rises above all forms of prejudice, unforgiving resentments, and hatreds because the invulnerability of selflessness contains nothing of substance that evil can take ahold of or latch on to. 

            Uncompromising love in the face of the fierce opposition of persecution will be one of the validating signs of the love of Jesus Christ exhibiting itself in the words, countenance, bearing, confidence, and Holy Spirit light of the end-times tribulation tested Christian, demonstrated horizontally towards people and vertically towards God.       

            If Jesus Christ can bring His church to the point of being able to demonstrate this high level of pure, unselfish love in contrast to the unjustified, deadly animosity shown toward Christians by Satan through the Antichrist, then what does this have to say about mankind’s recovery from its early defeat in the Garden of Eden? 

            This final head-to-head comparison of the expression of the overcoming divine love of Jesus Christ demonstrated in action through end-times Christian people, contrasted with the nakedly exposed malicious and unwarranted hatred of the Antichrist, puts all of the great past issues into perspective.

            John 20:21 reads “even as the Father has sent me, even so send I you.” 

            All of the narrative stories of positive faith in the Bible contain an extremely tight set of circumstances.  This is one of the features that authenticates and validates the proactive hand of God working within the lives of His saints.  The tight circumstances of a biblical journey of faith are purposed by the intelligent design of God to fall outside of the capacity of human creative invention. 

            The philosophy of deism says that God indeed created our natural world, but then backed off to a comfortable distance and has no active participation in our ongoing world.  The journeys of faith recorded in the Bible tell us just the opposite. 

            Through the totally unique and novel aspects of the narrowness of the cross experience (Mt. 7:13-14), God demonstrates that He is intimately active in the lives of people of faith in a way that is unimaginable within worldly conventional thinking. 

            God-composed journeys of faith reveal that they are singularly divine because the tightly structured series of events mirror the same finely-tuned precision that we discover in the force of gravity or the cosmological constant in our physical universe.    

            In light of the foregoing discussion of the incredibly tight circumstances surrounding the disposition of the Egyptians and the Israelites at the shoreline of the Red Sea, and the tight series of divinely orchestrated circumstances in Egypt that Moses and the Israelites experienced in their deliverance from bondage in Egypt…the question can reasonably be asked: “Is the timing of a pretribulation rapture tight or wide?” 

            Is a rapture of the Christian church, placed at the beginning of the tribulation, consistent with the biblical pattern of God nurturing and building faith through incredibly tight circumstances outside of human imagination and control? 

            Is a pretribulation rapture scenario an aberration, inconsistent with the biblical pattern of God’s precise interaction in our lives? 

            Does it reveal instead a wishfully optimistic scriptural interpretation of end-times biblical prophecy based upon human intellectual reasoning that misses altogether the spiritual insight that comes through an understanding of the narrowness of a journey of faith, via the cross?

            I believe that Christians currently engaged in journeys of faith following Jesus Christ will see in the days ahead that events and circumstances in their lives will tighten like never before, as preparation for the upcoming challenges facing the end-times church. 

            I believe that mature Christian men and women having a recent history of purchasing an active and living faith through the intensive training environment of tight and narrow life experiences following Jesus Christ, will be indispensable leaders and examples for at least some portion of time during the tribulation. 

            When the world starts to come apart, threatening the worldly conventional dreams and aspirations for normal life that are shortly coming to an end, the last remaining group of lost sheep will finally let go of the cares of this world, and respond to the gospel message of hope and salvation amidst even the most daunting of circumstances. 

            This message will be preached by courageous Joel 2:28-29 Christians who have the personal conviction of having “walked the walk” through their own God-led adventures of faith.

            I believe that every major, positive character in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, and all of the people of faith during the church age, including Christians in faith-propelled ministries of one sort or another today, have at some time in a personal and honest moment with God asked: “Do you really and actually know what you are doing, God?” 

            I believe that part of the last “great tribulation” is designed to resoundingly answer that question in a final and unimaginably tight and precise “yes” that will secure our faith, trust, and admiration for God for the rest of eternity.    

God Sees Us Differently Than the World Sees Us

            The concept of unselfish love, that costs us something in the giving up of some of ourselves in deference to others, could not be more starkly contrasted in the callous and uncaring attitude of the Egyptians towards the Israelites. 

            The Israelites were not supposed to be slaves.  This was not their destiny as intended by God.  They were the future nation of Israel, the apple of God’s eye (Zech. 2:8), a blessing to all of the nations (Gen. 18:18). 

            But the Egyptians couldn’t care less about the Israelites or their future potential as individuals or as a nation.  The Egyptians only cared about themselves. 

            The Egyptians were all about other people serving them.  They were the epitome of cold-hearted, worldly self-advancement at the expense of others.  Their self-centered attitudes and actions were the direct opposite of perfect love.  They were the diametric opposite of the unselfish and pure love expressed within the Trinity, which God was about to attempt to bring into the realm of human experience on a larger scale through the creation of the nation of Israel. 

            No amount of clear reasoning, or logical appeal, or supernatural signs through catastrophic plagues could break through the worldly self-centeredness of the Egyptians.  They cared only about keeping the Hebrews in bondage as slaves under their control. 

            God judged this destructively hate-filled character trait of Satan’s approach to the use of power, demonstrated in action through the blindly self-centered attitude of the Egyptians towards the Israelites, with powerful finality at the parting of the Red Sea.    

            At some point in time during the previous ten plagues brought upon the land of Egypt leading up to the release of the Israelites, the Egyptians became stubbornly hardened beyond reach.  The Egyptian chariot army, poised to attack the Israelites camped on the shoreline of the Red Sea, were well beyond the sympathetic and loving outreach of God. 

            If the nation of Egypt at that time could not be reasoned with through the obvious hand of God evidenced through the supernatural ten plagues upon their land, then they were beyond the reach of self-evaluation, repentance, and redemption (Ex. 1:8-14; 7:3-5). 

            Pride and self-centeredness pushed-out the capacity for repentance.  The Egyptians could no longer empathize or feel compassion for the Israelites.  They had lost the ability to care about others. 

            The Egyptians had no fear, no respect, and no reverence for the word of God.  This is our lost-in-sin condition at its worst.  The Egyptians were in a total state of unbelief, polarized in spiritual blindness beyond salvage. 

            God knows that following Satan leads to oblivion.  God tried but could not break through to the Egyptian nation, even using powerful signs and plagues.  Sadly, the only recourse for God to do with the incurable threat of the Egyptian army was to drown it in final judgment in the Red Sea. 

            Otherwise, the Egyptian chariot army might have merely driven north around the Red Sea, and attacked the Israelites on the other side. 

            This may be a preview of the last days.  For some people the twenty-one scroll, trumpet, and bowl judgment plagues of Revelation, like the ten plagues in Egypt, will have no effect (Rev. 9:20-21; 16:9). 

            The pivotal question for all Christians to consider as they study the end-times biblical prophecies is can this massive final confrontation between good and evil occur, with all of its force and impact, without the main Christian church on the earth for at least some portion of the seven-year tribulation? 

            Can God perfectly choreograph the events of the end-times tribulation period, separating good from evil, demonstrating His redemptive love, and exposing the need for final judgment, without the modern-day equivalent of the Egyptians and the Israelites both being present in full-strength along the banks of the Red Sea at the same time? 

            Would the start of the parting of the Red Sea a day or two earlier, facilitating the easier escape of the Israelites without the pressure of their impending doom in the visible presence of the nearby Egyptian army, have diluted and thereby spoiled this classic encounter between good and evil, mediated so decisively by the supernatural deliverance of God in opening up the Red Sea? 

            Can the hatred that is generated against Christians (Matthew 24:9), the debate that occurs between the little horn of Daniel and the saints of the Most High (Dan. 7:20-21), the final and glorious deliverance of the church through the rapture (1 Cor. 15:51-53; Mt. 24:40-41), and the scroll, trumpet, and final bowl judgments of Revelation all occur without God bringing them all perfectly together in close proximity in time and space? 

            Do all of the antagonists have to be fully in place on earth for the final conflict to have lasting impact and resolution? 

No Shadow of Turning in Perfect Love (James 1:17)

            One of the developments that has resulted from the steady progress of modern Christian theology is a more insightful understanding and articulation of the concept of the Trinity (Mt. 3:16-17; Jn. 1:32-34). 

            This understanding of the relational friendship and love enjoyed between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for all eternity sheds light on the concept of unselfish and giving love, perfect in its expression within the fellowship of the Triune God. 

            A God who has been alone since eternity could not claim to have much credibility in the area of understanding perfect friendship and love. 

            But a singular God who knows how to exercise perfect love in friendship and harmony within the complex nature of the three distinct Persons of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit gives us a better understanding and comprehension of many of the core doctrines, teachings, and truths of the Bible. 

            “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God” combined with “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,” makes more sense in the light of a model of unity, friendship, and love expressed within the Trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit since before time began. 

            A God whose program is based upon getting us back into a condition where He can unselfishly share with us the same quality of love He enjoys within the Trinity, adds that one helpful additional element to our understanding of the motivation behind God’s composition of our journeys of faith.

            In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asks the Father: “if thou be willing, remove this cup from me” but then surrenders His own personal preference in deference to the ancient course of action planned by Himself, the Father, and the Holy Spirit working closely together as a team to provide salvation for mankind through the cross and the resurrection. 

            Jesus frames the classic sentiments of unselfish, sacrificial love by going on to say: “nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done” (Lk. 22:42). 

            This is one of the fundamental realities that is at the best and highest of the human experience. 

            In entering into a successful marriage, both husband and wife must lovingly and willingly surrender some of themselves to the wishes of their partner.  Part of the expression of love is this willingness to please the other person in the giving over of our own will and way, not just to maintain harmony, but because we genuinely care about the other person’s wishes and desires. 

            The same thing occurs in maintaining a healthy friendship. 

            We cannot enjoy a close friendship with another person if we insist upon having our way all the time.  In meeting other people “half-way” in the making of plans for the weekend, or in taking vacation trips together, or in simply deciding where to get together for lunch, the exercising of a humble spirit of compromise and unselfishness goes a long way toward building close and mutually respectful friendships that can last a lifetime. 

            Jesus Christ the Son of God surrenders a portion of His momentary preference to explore the possibility of another option, to the eternally larger plan and scheme of salvation through the cross. 

            This is deference to the will of the Father and love for His neighbor…human beings (as a result of His Incarnation into the human race), in perfectly executed fulfillment of the commandments of the law and the prophets (Mt. 7:12). 

            In Gethsemane and at Calvary, Jesus loses some of His individuality, His personal request to the Father to “remove this cup of suffering.” 

            But in the highest and most sublime sense, in doing so, He gains back His individuality in defining Himself as the sacrificial atonement for sin, the Passover Lamb of God Savior for all eternity.  The self-sacrifice of the cross defines for all times the essence of truth, righteousness, and love. 

            The power, beauty, and rightness of the plan of salvation amazingly take precedence over the individual wishes of even the divine Son of God living in a human body. 

            This places Jesus Christ at the forefront as our leader in this regard. 

            When we give up something of ourselves, in a marriage relationship, in a friendship, within the structure of a healthy family life, and in a God-composed journey of faith following Jesus Christ according to His higher plans and not our own, we are experiencing one of the highest character traits leading to peace and goodwill for all eternity. 

The Perfect Timing of God

“Who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a people of his own, zealous of good works.”                                                            (Tit. 2:14)                                                                                        

            In the example of the parting of the Red Sea at the start of the exodus of the Israelites out of Egypt, the perfect timing of God waits until all of the parties are together on the banks of the Red Sea before He begins to part the waters. 

            The Egyptian chariot army is stalled on one side of the pillar of fire, and on the other side the Israelites are watching the Red Sea open up through the supernatural hand of God.  The unarmed and defenseless Hebrew slaves are just beyond reach of the Egyptian army. 

            This sets in motion the infuriation of the proud Egyptians at this yet-again miraculous intervention of the Hebrew God on behalf of the heretofore lowly Israelites, and fuels the determination of the Egyptian army to continue their pursuit of the fleeing Israelites into the parted waters of the Red Sea and to their eventual judgment of God, and final doom. 

            It is the emotionally charged energy that is generated by having both the Israelites and the Egyptians together in close proximity at the shoreline of the Red Sea that propels the actions and events that lead to the deliverance of the Israelites, and the destruction of the Egyptians. 

            All of the competing issues of character that make-up the long period of exploitation, servitude, and inhospitality the Jews experienced while sojourning in the land of Egypt are brought together into a final climax at the parting of the Red Sea. 

            The demonstration of God’s deliverance, the need for faith in God on the part of the Israelites, and the judgment of evil attitudes and actions are all divided, separated, and exposed in this monumental collision of forces and purposes at the banks of the Red Sea. 

            It is the perfectly timed choreography of these events that allows God to craft and shape a final outcome that both reveals His character and establishes some important truths having eternal application. 

            If God had started the parting of the Red Sea a day earlier, with the exodus of the Israelites already in progress and nearing completion when the Egyptian chariot army arrived at the shoreline, much of the power and impact of God’s message would have been deflated. 

            The Egyptian army, watching the tail-end of the Israelites nearing the opposite shore across a long dry-land passage through the sea, an escape that would have begun sometime the day before, would have been a discouraging and anticlimactic ending to the Egyptian’s final pursuit of the Israelites.

            This would have resulted in the Egyptian chariot army simply giving up and possibly returning to Egypt. 

            In this scenario, the Israelites would have already perfected their escape, at least for the time being. 

            It is the closeness together in time and physical proximity of these two extremely dissimilar groups of people, the Egyptians and the Israelites, which allows God through the events of the parting of the Red Sea, to ignite this explosive mixture into the outcome that He anticipated, designed, and orchestrated. 

            This divinely crafted outcome of deliverance and salvation for the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was in complete frustration and consternation to the forces of spiritual opposition. 

            Instead of the destruction of the children of God, the Israelites are safely across to the opposite side of the Red Sea and heading toward Canaan, while the Egyptian army with all of their chariots and swords, and continued plans of domination and exploitation, are drowned at the bottom of the sea. 

            This was a preview and a foreglimpse of God’s many imaginative and powerful tales of salvation to come, recorded in the Bible, that today we can by faith cut-and-paste forward into our own upcoming, immensely challenging end-times period.

            The plagues in Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea, at the beginning of the exodus of the Israelites heading toward their Promised Land, and the upcoming last seven-year tribulation period at the close of human redemptive history, are on a relatively equal magnitude level of truth-revelation. 

            If the perfectly timed choreography of events during the parting of the Red Sea was designed by God to contrast the difference between the power of loving salvation, and the utter destructive judgment of self-centered evil, surely there is a similar level of purpose of revelation contained within the last seven-year tribulation period for mankind. 

            Identifying some of these central purposes is critical to evaluating the truth-content of the various end-of-time scenarios being discussed today.

Our Relationship with Jesus Christ is Paramount

            The most important immediate question regarding the last days is not whether we have all of the prophetic events clearly identified, sequenced, and completely figured out in advance, but whether or not we are mature Christians in terms of faith and trust in God in order to be spiritually ready for whatever lies ahead. 

            Christians who are surrendered and yielded to the will of God, and are currently engaged in Spirit-filled service, are by definition in a state of watchfulness and will be raptured no matter when it occurs in relation to end-time events (Mt. 24:46). 

            What Christians must avoid at all costs is a mere head-knowledge of some particular end-times scenario of events, which in our minds satisfies and displaces the requirements regarding our discipleship responsibility to watch and to be ready. 

            Intellectual head-knowledge of end-times prophecies will not fulfill the need for active interaction with Jesus Christ in the present moment, as the required element for watchfulness.  Christians cannot afford to become complacent and over-confident because we confuse intellectually subscribing to a particular, well thought-out end-times scenario, with actually being in the midst of faithful service to Jesus Christ the King as our living proof of watchfulness (Jas. 1:22). 

            If our particular current, for-the-moment, chosen end-times interpretation turns out in fact to be partially wrong, if we are nonetheless “in Christ” in terms of a genuine journey of faith and service according to our unique talents and abilities, then a transitional adjustment to a more correct view of prophetic events will not be that difficult. 

            If however, we are unwise and coasting along in the false expectation of the master of the house coming back at the first watch of the night (Mk. 13:35), we could end-up without having purchased through faith enough oil in our lamps to make it through a potentially long duration of the night (Mt. 25:8).  

            The Apostle Paul, in Philippians 1:6, 1:10, and 2:16, is trying to get the Philippians ready for the “day of Christ.”  Paul does the same thing with the Corinthians (1 Cor. 1:8, 5:5; 2 Cor. 1:14), the Thessalonians (1 Thes. 4:13-17; 2 Thes. 2:2, 2:8), Timothy (1 Tim. 6:14; 2 Tim. 1:18, 4:8), and Titus (Tit. 2:13). 

            If this is important to Paul in the first-century, how much more so is it important to the present-day Christian church twenty centuries later?  We are certainly closer to the “day of Christ” than the first-century church that Paul is addressing in his letters. 

            We should have the same message today as the Apostle Paul, yet with even more urgency.   

            If everyone knew the exact day and hour of the rapture, sadly many people would cruise along in sin until the last minute, and then suddenly attempt to turn pious.  Paul says that the successful Christian life is a foot race that requires steady, lifelong training in order to win (1 Cor. 9:24). 

            Jesus knows that the most important thing, which overrides all other considerations, is to complete the work of salvation on the earth down to the very last person who will respond to the gospel message at the close of this age and the beginning of the eternity to come. 

            Those Christians in past centuries who did not experience the rapture have not been overlooked.  Their treasure is in heaven where it does not rust or decay.  The promise of their resurrection to eternal life is secure. 

            1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 says that the dead in Christ shall risefirst, and that we who are alive and remain will be caught up to join them in the air.  The promises of God are and have been true for every generation of believers.  

            There is an old saying: “Fate does not call upon us at the moment of our choosing.” 

            That is why we are to watch and always be ready.  The one true approach that will work well for the Christian believer no matter how the end-of-world events actually unfold is to stay close to Jesus Christ in our daily lives, and to keep our eyes and ears open to the Holy Spirit at all times. 

            Being spiritually prepared for any potential end-times scenario has no down-side.

            In the study of the history and development of eschatology, emphasis is placed upon the importance of the recovery of last-days biblical prophetic truths during the time-period following the Protestant Reformation. 

            This has occurred alongside the parallel discovery of other key doctrines such as salvation by grace, justification through faith, and becoming spiritually reborn (Jn. 3:3), which were partially lost during the dark and middle-ages of history. 

            One of the key biblical doctrines that still has not made a full recovery in practical application to this day, in my opinion, is the concept of a divinely planned and guided challenge of adversity contained within a God-composed journey of faith, which beneficially separates the believer from debilitating self-sovereignty. 

            The Christian set free from self-in-control in a walk-of-faith through the cross and the resurrection is then able to step into a biblical quality of life to match on some level the experiences of an Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Gideon, David, Ruth, Esther and Mordecai, Daniel, Peter, and Paul. 

            In the current emphasis in developed countries for church growth and the effort to find the right tone to reach-out and successfully evangelize the unchurched, one key element of our discipleship of picking up our cross and following Jesus, is all too often homogenized out of the message for the sake of not offending worldly-minded potential converts. 

            Sadly, in too many churches today the idea that every Christian can have an individualized adventure of faith composed and guided personally by Jesus Christ, starting at the foot of the cross, is not even clearly and powerfully taught as applying to our everyday lives here and now, much less factored into the calculus of the upcoming tumultuous end-times prophetic scenarios.

            In my opinion, the Christian church must experience some portion of Daniel’s seven-year tribulation. 

            As I interpret the narrative stories of faith in the Bible, this viewpoint does not adversely affect our blessed hope, or undermine the doctrine of imminence at any time of an immediate rapture of the church, or call into question the purity of God’s love for us (Ps. 34:19). 

            Confronting and overcoming dark challenges is an integral and inseparable part of the process of a journey of faith life-script that God lovingly composes for our eternal good, as patterned in the narrative stories of faith recorded in the Bible. 

            Jesus Christ actually tells Peter at the beginning of Peter’s ministry that he will someday in the future be martyred through crucifixionrather than be raptured (Jn. 21:18-19), yet this seemingly negative prophetic information does not discourage Peter, diminish the power of his ministry, or destroy his blessed hope in the slightest (1 Pet. 1:3). 

            Paul tells Timothy (2 Tim. 4:6) he suspects that he (Paul) will be martyred soon, not raptured.  Yet Paul presses forward in this knowledge with unwavering hope and determination to honorably complete his mission and calling (2 Tim. 4:17). 

            Because Paul enjoys the status of being a Roman citizen, historical tradition tells us that Paul is finally executed by beheading (parallels Revelation 20:4) in Rome under Nero’s decree sometime around A.D. 62-65…instead of being crucified like Peter, a Jew and a non-citizen of Rome. 

            If two of the greatest Christians and chosen authors of New Testament letters to the churches, Peter and Paul, did not allow a foreknowledge of their future deaths as martyrs to adversely affect the commitment to their calling and their fidelity to Jesus Christ, how is it that many Christians today believe that experiencing some portion of the tribulation will destroy their blessed hope of Titus 2:13?  

            In John 15:11, Jesus says: “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.” 

            Moments earlier, Jesus told the disciples: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth, give I unto you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” 

            These words Jesus spoke the night before His crucifixion the following day.

            In John 11:7, upon hearing of the death of His friend Lazarus, Jesus says: “Let us go into Judaea again.”  The disciples respond by saying: “Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee; and goest thou there again?” 

            In verse 16, one of the disciples Thomas (the much maligned “doubting” Thomas who would not accept the resurrection until he saw Jesus with his own eyes) then says with characteristically clear-sighted appraisal of the situation: “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” 

            Yet the disciples do not perish with Jesus during His trial and crucifixion, but after Pentecost go on to preach courageously of the bodily resurrection of Christ in the very heart of danger in Jerusalem. 

            The narrowest of gates opens for the disciples to form the early Christian church amidst the most lethally adverse circumstances, a church which has flourished and survived down to our present day to provide salvation and deliverance from sin to Spirit-born Christians worldwide.   

             Jesus Christ fills all-in-all so that we can follow Him safely into the deepest valley and up to the highest mountaintop, in our singular and unique callings. 

            We must factor this honest and straightforward reality into our interpretation of biblical end-of-time prophetic scripture if we are to come reasonably close to what God intends us to understand ahead of time as God prepares us for the upcoming end-times.

            Peter and Paul exemplify the true, biblical, divinely authorized foreglimpse of the overcoming attitude of faith and trust in the Rock that is Christ, in response to whatever challenges lie ahead in the future for Christians. 

            This is the hope-built foundation of our faith, no matter what is occurring in the outer world. 

            For the Spirit-born Christian, our eternal life with Jesus Christ in heaven is forever, without end.  It is already secure. 

            The cross of Christ experience, therefore, in our short-lived lives now is priceless beyond reckoning (Rom. 8:18). 

            This is the part of the discussion relating to eschatology that has not yet been fully recovered.  It is certainly an opinion and a viewpoint worthy of examination, discussion, and argument from scripture. 

God Has Not Revealed Everything Yet

            The seven-year tribulation period is traditionally understood by many Christians to begin with the “covenant” that the Antichrist makes with the nation of Israel described in Daniel 9:24-27. 

            For purposes of this book, I am assuming a seven-year tribulation period, recognizing that many past and present Christians have suggested a three and one-half year tribulation, and that there is disagreement as to what to do with the second half of the 70th week of Daniel after the messiah is “cut off” and the sacrifice caused to “cease.” 

            Every Christian knows from the gospels of Matthew and Luke, and the book of Revelation, that there will be an end-times great tribulation. 

            The question of how long the tribulation will last and when the rapture would occur, is still open.  

            The scenario of world events that would lead to the nation of Israel signing such a peace agreement with the involvement of the Antichrist is currently not known.  The idea that the chaos following a worldwide rapture would precipitate the series of events that would facilitate the rise of the Antichrist, is speculative conjecture based upon one plausible scenario among many other possible alternatives. 

            No human being has all of this completely figured out at this time. 

            We currently do not know what would be the magnitude of the impact that a worldwide disappearance of hundreds of millions of Christians and underage children, through the rapture, upon the psyche of the world’s current 7-billion population. 

            The only real expert here is the Holy Spirit.

             It is not an article of faith to accept the viewpoint that the rapture is required to set up the conditions for the rise of the Antichrist.   This particular viewpoint does not have to be taken as gospel.  

            There are a number of possible events that could create the environment conducive for the rise of the Antichrist, some of which may be revealed already in Matthew 24:4-7 depending upon the order, magnitude, and timing of their particular occurrence. 

            The ancient hatred of the Arab countries for the nation of Israel alone has enough explosive political energy within it to propel a deceptive, smooth-talking, outwardly charismatic peacemaker into world prominence and power.

            Christians, at this time, do not have to commit to anyone’s particular end-times interpretation, including my own viewpoint as expressed in this book. 

            Nowhere in the Bible, that I can find, does it say that we must have all of the last days events completely figured out one-hundred percent ahead of time. 

            It is allowable, even divinely purposed (Joel 2:28-29), to hold some questions in suspension for a while until actual events begin to unfold. 

            The teaching that because the Bible is one-third prophecy, that this automatically infers that we can put all of the jigsaw puzzle pieces of the end-of-time biblical prophecies together completely ahead of time, sounds commendably logical on its surface according to horizontally conventional thinking, but this viewpoint is not biblically correct. 

            The parable of the fig tree (Mt. 24:32-35) suggests that Christians must watch for the sprouting of the leaves (end-times events) to know when the end is near. 

            Joel 2:28-32 tells us that in the last days our sons and daughters will prophesy, young men will see visions, and old men shall dream dreams. 

            This implies that there is additional, fill-in-the-gaps, Holy Spirit breathed and validated prophetic information to be revealed at the appropriate future time when this information begins to become applicable. 

            This divinely promised, definitive revelation will be a timely and welcome improvement over the varied opinions and interpretations that have been commendably and honestly debated over the past several centuries.

Evangelism Takes Precedence

            In the debate over the timing and sequence of end-times events, the tension between the hope of an imminent rapture at any time in the church age, and the on-going work of salvation on the earth to draw-in each and every lost sheep destined for eternal life in heaven, often takes a backseat in recent times to the more high-profile argument of the timing of the rapture in relation to the seven-year tribulation period. 

            Yet this issue of the end-of-the-ages worldwide evangelism is paramount. 

            Matthew 24:14 reads: “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” 

            The Great Commission (Mt. 28:18-20) takes precedence over the timing of the Rapture, the Great Tribulation, the Second Coming of Christ, and the Millennium. 

            The work of salvation, the sharing of the good news of the gospel, stands front and center above all other considerations. 

            The eternal salvation of even one person is so important to God it can hold in abeyance the second coming of Jesus Christ to earth. 

            If Christians cannot agree on this point, regarding the overriding importance of worldwide evangelism coming first and foremost within the scheme of end-time events, then the basis for our end-times theology may be out of balance. 

            People can argue for a pretribulation rapture of the Christian church, or conversely for a return of Christ after the millennium, because these differing scenarios fit smoothly into systematically constructed viewpoints. 

            But the emphasis in the mind and heart of God has always been the harvest of lost souls right up to and including the very last person pre-destined for salvation. 

            This reality is strongly evidenced today by the explosion of Christian evangelism and salvation in many parts of the world, alongside the parallel fact that we are still looking for the rapture and the second coming of Christ.  As time marches relentlessly on, the Holy Spirit is convicting lost sinners and saving souls around the world. 

            Only God knows who these last final converts are, when they will exercise salvation quality faith in Jesus Christ, and what will be needed in terms of external situations and circumstances to bring them to the point where they recognize their need for God. 

            And only God knows how many Spirit-led Christians will be needed on hand to speak the words of Life to match the number of people who will respond to God’s final call at the end of the ages. 

            That is why the times and the seasons must belong to God alone. 

            If Christians knew in advance who the last few people were to be saved at the end of human history, we might rush-out ahead of the Spirit with our own program, and attempt to convert them before the Holy Spirit had the opportunity to generate the external circumstances to correctly prepare them to receive Jesus Christ through genuine repentance and faith. 

            The same process of a sense of shame, regret, and internal conviction over our personal sins and shortcomings, which brought us to salvation quality faith in Jesus Christ, must also actualize for the last-days convert as well.

            There is a finite list of people, compiled through God’s eternal foreknowledge (Rom. 8:29), who will come to salvation faith throughout the long span of Old and New Testament history. 

            Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Mark, Luke, Stephen the martyr, Paul, Phoebe, Priscilla and Aquila, Timothy, Barnabas, and Titus, to name only a few first-century Christians…were on that list. 

            The Old Testament men and women of faith, the early church fathers, the reformers, the missionaries and their converts in previous centuries, were on that list. 

            Those of us who are born-again Christians today are on that list. 

            We have not reached the bottom of this list yet.  Each generation of Christians in past centuries, within its own unique historical context has worked on completing the Great Shepherd’s list of lost sheep to be found and saved, not knowing how close they were to the bottom of this list. 

            Every person named on this list had to work through their lives within the time-frame and context of their own personal situations and circumstances, to reach the point of choosing through their own free-will volition to accept Jesus Christ into their hearts. 

            The Holy Spirit is capable of reaching all of the people who are called to salvation faith in every generation.  But events must follow their proper course. 

            From our limited viewpoint, we simply do not know when this list of people will finally be exhausted. 

            This is how the watchfulness and expectation of Christian disciples for the second coming of Jesus on the one-hand, and the evangelical outreach through the Holy Spirit to the lost sheep on the other hand, can appear to be contradictory yet in fact proceed down through the ages in harmonious tension. 

            From the time of that important question to Jesus by the disciples regarding the setting-up of the final Messianic kingdom in Acts 1:6, down to our present time, the work of salvation takes precedence over the rapture or the second coming of Christ. 

            The rapture and the second coming of Christ are held in suspension in time until the work of evangelism reaches a point somewhere down the list, where those people called to salvation make their decision to accept Jesus Christ, at the correct appointed times in their lives. 

            Then at some point in God’s divine time-line, in coordination with the Holy Spirit empowered work of evangelism, the colossal end-times events definitely begin to occur.  This ushers in an intensified period of chaos and upheaval that will set-up for the last final group, at the bottom of the list of people called to salvation within the due course of time, to be motivated by end-times catastrophes to reject this world and to make their decision for Christ. 

            The long history of human salvation, and the promised momentous end-times prophetic events, both running along parallel tracks, finally converge at their appointed time. 

            Somewhere along this time-line, the last “great” push for the most stubborn converts intensifies to a final crescendo, the great tribulation kicks into a higher gear, most if not all of the evangelical work is complete, and in my opinion the promised rapture then occurs.

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