A Promise of Hope for Every Generation 4

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 rise first, 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.

A Promise of Hope for Every Generation 3

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 subject of chapter five).

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.

A Promise of Hope for Every Generation 2

Evangelism Takes Precedence

In the debate over the timing and sequence of end-times events, this 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 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.

A Promise of Hope for Every Generation 1

“Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, in which dwelleth righteousness.  Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless.”                                                                         (2 Pet. 3:13-14)

In the Apostle Paul’s letters to the churches, like Peter’s quote above, part of the message to these new Christians was to look forward in hope and anticipation for the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ in their lifetimes.

This was consistent with the commands of Jesus given in several teachings and parables scattered throughout the gospels, for His disciples to always watch and be ready for His return (Mt. 24:42, 25:13; Mk. 13:37; Lk. 21:36).

The question can then be asked, if the teaching of Jesus, the preaching of the apostles, the doctrine of the early church, and the scriptures of the New Testament all uniformly say that not only first-century but all subsequent believers should look for an imminent second coming of Christ, was this inconsistent with a pre-condition, for example, that Israel would have to become a nation again…as actually occurred in 1948…before the end of time (Isa. 11:11-12; Jer. 31:10)?

In light of the past two thousand years of recorded history, during which the rapture or the second coming did not take place, were all of the Christians who lived and died throughout the centuries between the first-century and the twenty-first century, partially misinformed about looking in earnest expectation for the rapture of the church (1 Cor. 15:51-53) and the second coming of Jesus?

At the time of the ministry of Jesus, and the subsequent writing of most of the New Testament in the following decades, the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the nation of Israel by the Romans in 70 A.D. had not even happened yet (Lk. 19:41-44).

The fall of Jerusalem and the dispersion of the Jewish people throughout the world would obviously have to occur before a re-gathering could happen sometime in the future, as a sign that the last days were approaching.

When the disciples ask the recently resurrected Jesus in Acts 1:6 “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel” (the Messianic reign), Jesus answers “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.”

             This discussion with Jesus, concerning His restoring the kingdom in Israel and thus bringing about the end of the old world system, was occurring before Paul the Apostle was even converted, and before much of the New Testament theology and doctrine was fully formulated.

It would be almost two decades before Paul would write 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17.

This discussion with Jesus about the end-times was occurring before the Apostle John had even written his gospel, much less the book of Revelation.

Yet Jesus did not say at that time, to stop watching and looking for His second coming, but instead said that the disciples would receive Holy Spirit power to become witnesses of Christ to the uttermost parts of the world (Acts 1:8).

It was a fair question by the disciples to ask of the resurrected Jesus at that time, and the answer then was that there was evangelical work to do, which stretched in time far beyond the vision of the early disciples…to our present day.

Many people use the above-mentioned scriptures and early church doctrine to argue that the rapture of the Christian church is imminent today, and could happen at any moment, and I believe they are correct.  The concept that there would be millions of Christians living through twenty centuries of time without this promise actually coming true, yet living their lives as if the rapture and the second coming could happen any day, is not inconsistent.

The expectation of the second coming of Christ and the beginning of a new earth and a new heavens where peace and justice will reign, is a hope that is rightly supposed to reside within the hearts of Christians in the second-century, the fifth-century, the tenth-century, through the middle ages, and in each of our previous four or five centuries leading up to today.

The fact that the rapture and the second coming did not occur in these past centuries, even though many Christians were faithfully watching and looking for these events…is due to some overriding considerations that are more important than the timing of the rapture or the second coming of Christ.

One of these important considerations is the salvation of the many sheep that Jesus speaks about when He says He has other sheep to call that are not of this first-century flock:

“And other sheep I have, that are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd” (Jn. 10:16).

Those sheep that Jesus is referring to, at this current time, happen to be us.

If the rapture and the second coming had both occurred in the 8th century, for example, we could not now be saved because we would never have been born.  You could not be reading this book, if the rapture occurred in the 9th century, because the world and the millennium would have ended already.

If the rapture had occurred in the 11th century, there would have been no John Wycliffe, no Martin Luther, no Protestant Reformation, no invention of the printing press that allowed Bibles to be available in hundreds of languages to be read by the common people, and no great missionaries of the 18th and 19th centuries.

If the rapture had occurred in the 15th century, there would have been no Salvation Army, no Red Cross, no Billy Graham crusades around the world, no classic debates with brilliant antagonists resulting in the creation of modern theology and apologetics, and no intense searches for truth over the past recent centuries within philosophy, science, history, archaeology, politics, and Christianity.

Even though the earnest expectation for the end of this world and the beginning of a new world has been the proper hope of every Christian since the first-century, this hope has correctly and rightly been put on hold until the very last sheep have heard the gospel message and made their decision for Christ.

This viewpoint is consistent with 2 Peter 3:9, which says: “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness, but is long-suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”