The End-Times 2

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 mentioned above:

 

“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 have 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…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 occur within the time-span of  the seven-year tribulation period of great persecution of Christians, and the only new Christians formed 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, 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…for Matthew 24:9-10 to occur…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 the continuous uninterrupted existence on earth of the combined main body of the Christian church plus the apostate church, extends and overlaps 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 tribulation.

 

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

 

The intensity of a sifting-out split of the “church” through worldwide persecution (Mt. 24:9-10) is then equivalent to the magnitude of the actual great tribulation itself.

 

Sparing the Christian church from tribulation then loses its meaning, purpose, and appeal.

The End-Times 1

“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 Lucifer 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 Lucifer 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.

The Emperor Nero 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, exhibiting the love of Jesus Christ, enabled Christians to stand-out favorably among the people who personally knew them…but did not unfortunately dissuade in any way the impersonal condemnation 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 three 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 alone.  They would not agree to the very reasonable (from a conventional worldly 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.

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 Lucifer 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 Lucifer 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 Lucifer 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 Lucifer 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 Lucifer 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, Lucifer 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.

Mixing Fact with Fiction 3

If the Left Behind construction of events is entirely accurate, then Lucifer is now fully informed as to what lies ahead.

But if the Left Behind construction of events is not entirely accurate, why are we relying upon something for our end-times prophetic interpretation that is not truly definitive?

Does the need to stretch the biblical end-times revelation with fiction in order to connect all of the dots to fit within the medium of the modern adventure novel format, excuse the necessity to morph this fiction into a hybrid mixture of unreal characters and storylines that are no longer purely biblical in nature?

Is the initial concept of mixing end-times biblical prophecy with adventure novel fiction, because of the inherent serious nature of the subject matter, a misguided enterprise from the outset?

Would the creation of four or five competing 12-volume literary works representing the other eschatology viewpoints, enlisting writers of the quality of a Ludlum, Clancy, DeMille, Cussler, or Follett, and likewise utilizing an exciting and suspense-filled action adventure format, edify or detract from the biblical end-times prophecy discussion?

This unquestionably would make for some additional, entertaining late-night and weekend reading.  I would love to read Clive Cussler’s or Ken Follett’s account of Christians walking through walls or de-materializing like Philip (Acts 8:39) to escape from enemies, or pulling apples out of the thin air for food, according to the end-times interpretation of many Christians that God will supernaturally shelter His church in a wilderness type protective setting.

But would this fictional adventure novel approach result in a furtherance of Paul’s insightful self-revelation of the power-position of being worldly last as a servant in God’s gospel outreach to mankind (1 Corinthians 4:9)?

Or would this approach result in a worldly diluted compromise of the supernatural, unimaginably higher activities of God during the upcoming tribulation, after the pattern already revealed in the works of God portrayed in the narrative stories of faith in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible?

Is the carefully premeditated and balanced extent of God’s revelation of upcoming end-times events God’s way of saying “hands-off” in this one area of inspired biblical revelation?

Are we walking along the dangerous edge of a precipice when we attempt to promote a particular biblical ideology by using the literary device of the adventure novel to articulate our views?

Do we want to leave Christian and non-Christian readers with the faith-based view of the Apostle Paul displaying the humility level that will produce genuine Holy Spirit power for Joel 2:28-29 type service, or do we want to leave readers with the entertaining but unrealistic fiction-based view of Christians jet-setting all over the planet to rescue one another in conformity to a high-energy, Clive Cussler style adventure novel?

With all of the communication tools available to the modern Christian church, this is a question that all Christians will have to divide, separate, and answer for themselves.

The end-times revelation of God is not that the church will be raptured pretribulation, but that the mystery of iniquity will be exposed through the latter-rain preaching of Spirit-empowered Joel 2:28-29 Christians…and Holy Spirit engineered events.

It is the added push of the Spirit poured out upon all flesh in the world that is the element that takes our understanding and our facility with the pin-point accurate truth of the gospel…to a level of power and boldness equal to or beyond that experienced in the early church.

A critical point in this discussion is that only God could engineer salvation out of the negative rejection, incomprehension, and unbelief of mankind in first-century Israel and the contemporary Greco-Roman world.

Redemption from sin through the atonement of the cross of Calvary is counter-intuitive to conventional thinking at the extreme limits of reality of any type or kind whatsoever…divine or humanistic (Isa. 53).

The sheer originality of the cross and the resurrection of Jesus are beyond the reach of human creative literary imagination, composed within the puzzling, humanly unimaginable context of deadly rejection and ignorant unbelief.

The scenario of the cross and resurrection is validated as true because it passes the stringent test of containing the very real risk of falsification.

During that last fateful week in Jerusalem the religious authorities might not have been offended enough to condemn Jesus at all.

That God could imagine, compose, and orchestrate all of the remarkable events surrounding the crucifixion and resurrection of the Son of God, having it all make both profoundly inspired sense and having eternally beneficial practical application for untold millions of people, is a testament to the creative genius of God far above our own human literary skill-sets.

The fact that no one at the time understood the direction and purpose of the cross and the resurrection (Jn. 19:40; Mt. 27:63; Lk. 22:62, 24:1, 24:21), raises the entire redemption scenario above humanistic creative invention, validating God as its divine author.

This concept has huge apologetic value.  And this concept is critical to reaching a balanced understanding of the extent of God’s revelation regarding end-times prophecy today.

No mere human writer could or would invent the Roman crucifixion of Jesus Christ at the instigation of the Jerusalem religious leaders, producing a divine atonement for the shortcomings of the human race funneled through the inconceivably tight circumstances of the messianic expectations in first-century Israel.

When the upcoming end-times are over, God may look back in hindsight and say to last-days Christians: “good effort trying to figure it all out-ahead-of-time, but none of you were entirely right.”

In my opinion, the issues to divide at the end of redemptive history are too subtle and too important for anyone other than God to sort out.

To thoroughly expose the “man of sin…the son of perdition” (2 Thes. 2:3) along with the underlying ill-effects of sin…will take the creative skills of God Almighty, to match the brilliant life-script of Jesus of Nazareth in the first- century.

In the uniquely singular case of the redemptive atonement of Jesus Christ in first-century Israel, the magnitude of the event required that it be seen in hindsight as the complete and total workmanship of God, outside of full human understanding in-the-moment.

Although we have great promises given to us throughout scripture (Dan. 2:3; Mt. 24:14, 25:2; Jn. 16:13; 1 Thes. 5:4; Rev. 12:11) regarding the awareness we will have as Christians in the end-times, the spiritual vehicle of a journey of faith repeated throughout the narrative stories of faith reveal God’s methodology for unveiling truth in-the-moment, or in hindsight looking backwards, within carefully crafted life events.

Even though Abraham, Joseph, David, Peter, Paul, and many others in the Bible had foreknowledge regarding upcoming events in their lives through very specific promises of God, the overriding and controlling experience is summed up in the scripture “for we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7).

The vital element of picking up our cross and following God should at least be a factor we include in our calculus of end-times prophecy interpretation, and in our careful evaluation of the propriety of prematurely crafting an end-times scenario of events from beginning to end that imports fictional embellishment into the biblical record.

For me, the pretribulation rapture scenario has the look and feel of a humanistically optimistic interpretation overlaid on top of end-time biblical prophecy.  It scrubs away the very means and methods of God’s creative imagination in prepping His followers for eternity, by removing the adventure of faith experience out of the current environment of this broken world at the most critical time…the end-times tribulation period.

My starting paradigm for interpreting end-times biblical prophecy is the cross…as portrayed in the narrative stories of faith in the Bible.  The cross bias for interpretation is a big picture, macro-view of the Bible.  The cross bias sees a diverse mix of narrative stories, psalms, prophecy, and principles/precepts imaginatively designed to provide wisdom, knowledge, and encouragement to multitudes of differing personalities, time-periods, cultures, and personal challenges.

In God’s program, the personal cost to each of the biblical contributors has benefits to other people down through the ages on a colossal scale.  The brilliantly guided sacrifices of others in the past are expertly woven together in a biblical document having comprehensive and universal outreach, validating the divine authorship of the Bible in a way that stretches its message beyond the reach of human imagination and literary creativity.

One overriding theme of the Bible is that God’s ways are higher, and His plans are bigger than we can imagine.  The pursuit of a life “in Christ” through the cross, is intentionally counter to and outside of the reach of worldly conventional thinking in the strongest and most profound way.  Picking up our cross and following Jesus in whatever endeavor and direction He leads us, is by intentional design at the edge of human appreciation and imagination.

This is one reason why I believe the cross has been missed in the end-times biblical prophecy discussion, and why it needs to be factored-in as a key element in our understanding of upcoming events in the lives of individual Christians and the Christian church.

Mixing Fact with Fiction 2

One of the classic contemporary questions for the modern-day Christian church to resolve as we approach the end-times…is what methods combine purity with effectiveness in our evangelical outreach to the world?

This is one of the central issues currently being tested, considered, and debated regarding quality versus quantity…in the church growth movement.

In adopting the popular approach, in crafting a book series along the lines of a Ludlum, Follett, Clancy, Cussler, or DeMille adventure or spy novel… the Christian experience as portrayed in the Left Behind books often moves away from the uniquely biblical, supernatural storylines of total dependence upon God…toward the more conventionally identifiable portrait of exceptional human capabilities and personalities winning the day.

A hybrid compromise is thereby created.

Following the Left Behind model, one gets the sense that Peter and the other apostles in the New Testament would plot and plan all Thursday night to successfully carry out a daring Friday morning rescue of Jesus as He is being led to His hearing before Pilate, using cleverly deceptive disguises, counterfeit identifications, fast getaway horses, and a secure hideaway.

As captivating, thrilling, and engrossing as the Left Behind books are, the means-and-methods of the Left Behind main characters are too worldly conventional to fit comfortably within the actual pages of the book of Revelation…great tribulation storyline…as it will probably unfold.

This may seem on the surface like a minor distinction without much of a difference, but it really isn’t.  The depth of the supernaturally creative participation of God in our lives, which makes genuine Christianity vastly different from all other human experience, lies at the very heart of Daniel’s seven-year tribulation prophecy.

To make them interesting and believable in an adventure novel setting, the main characters in Left Behind are too worldly accomplished, too worldly successful, too worldly talented to be numbered among the twelve apostles, the Old Testament prophets, or the other great characters of the Bible (Dt. 7:6-7).

Like James Bond, Dirk Pitt, Jason Bourne, and Jack Ryan, these fictional Left Behind characters are larger-than-life in a worldly conventional sense.

To make them interesting and to capture our imagination, these Left Behind characters are a world-class airline pilot, the world’s best journalist, the world’s most knowledgeable Bible scholar, a Nobel prize-winning botanist, a beautifully attractive woman caught up in the snare of the Antichrist’s deceptively romantic allurement, the world’s most accomplished underground disguise artist, the world’s best computer experts, one of the world’s foremost black-marketers, and a brilliant and beautiful  young woman in her twenties flawlessly managing an underground, world-wide food distribution co-operative.

Even though people like Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Samuel, Daniel, Gideon, Esther and Mordecai, Nehemiah, Ezra, Peter, Paul, Philip, and Luke obviously have the innate potential to grow into their individual God-composed and guided callings…it is the supernatural aspects of their storylines that puts their eventual spiritual success and character growth beyond the reach of human accomplishment…and human literary invention…alone.

The underlying purpose behind a biblical journey of faith cancels out self-reliance and self-sufficiency (Jud. 7:2).  This is one of the main themes of the Bible and the demarcation line between the natural man and the spiritual man.  The cross applied to our lives is the solvent that dissolves away sin, and opens up the way for God to supernaturally act in and through us.

What all of this is telling us is something we already know, if we have personal familiarity with a Spirit-led journey of faith.  What this tells us is that human beings are incapable of composing divine storylines like God does as recorded in the Bible, or as He does in our Christian lives.  The cross applied to our lives is inaccessible to human intellect apart from a God-inspired and composed journey of faith.

Human authors, even at the talent level of a Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy, William Shakespeare, or in this case Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, all hit the glass ceiling of the limitations of human conventional thinking.

I love the Left Behind books and movies.  I have read all twelve volumes of the Left Behind series, cover-to-cover three times.  I will probably read them again sometime in the near future.  I love the adventure, the characters, and the way that various people come to salvation faith.

But the Left Behind books and movies unwittingly answer the important question raised earlier about the most effective way to reach the world with the gospel.  Even when great writers attempt to popularize something that will be as supernatural as the end-times tribulation period occurring at the end of human redemptive history, the limitations of everyone’s ability to step into the large creative shoes of God and foresee the future in terms of God’s higher unconventional ways…are exposed as being humanistically short-sighted.

We unquestionably have the creative license to write fictional Christian romances and tales composed around inspiring everyday experiences of God acting in our lives.

Does this same literary license extend to the genre of end-times biblical prophecy?  Have the writers of the Left Behind books crossed over the line of spiritual propriety in composing a complete depiction of the upcoming end-times, when God’s own revelation in scripture is purposely intended to be partial and incomplete?

There is a difference between the creative license to use fiction to describe Christian everyday experience, such as John Bunyan used in The Pilgrim’s Progress, compared to the creative license of presuming to be able to extrapolate a particular eschatological viewpoint into a complete, partly fictionalized narrative of the entire biblical end-times scenario.

Mixing Fact with Fiction 1

 “For we have not followed cunningly devised fables when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty.”                                                                                          (Pet. 1:16)

One of the reasons that the main characters in the Left Behind books resemble the fictional characters Jack Ryan in a Tom Clancy spy thriller, Jason Bourne in a Robert Ludlum novel, or Dirk Pitt in a Clive Cussler adventure novel, more than the biblical characters of Gideon, Samuel, Elijah, or Daniel, for example, is that most of the supernatural fine details of the events of the last days are still locked safely within the mind of God.

One of the reasons why the Left Behind book series volume number ten has people from all over the world inquiring about salvation using the very conventional means of connecting with internet councilors located in a computer command center in the ancient city of Petra, is that we currently cannot imagine all of the actual working out of the fine details of God’s upcoming end-times plans.

We cannot anticipate from our limited human perspective the supernatural biblical-style events like the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2), or Peter’s preaching to the multitudes after the healing of the crippled man at the entrance to the temple (Acts 3:12-26), or Stephen’s Spirit-anointed and thoroughly self-abandoned outreach in divine love to the Sanhedrin (Acts 7:2-53).

We cannot envision ahead of time the Holy Spirit being poured-out upon Cornelius the Roman centurion and his Gentile friends (Acts 10:44-48), or the Holy Spirit being poured-out upon “certain disciples” upon meeting Paul in Ephesus (Acts 19:1-7), or the Spirit utilizing intense persecution in Jerusalem to send out the first Christian missionaries “scattered abroad” to personally spread the gospel message according to Acts 8:4.

In my opinion, one of the reasons why the Left Behind books has its main characters courageously saving fellow believers out of danger all over the world…using conventional, adventure-novel style methods…is that we do not currently know all of God’s finely detailed plans yet.

The reason why Lear jets, masterful disguises, and cleverly crafted rescue strategies are used in the Left Behind books…rather than the supernatural biblical storylines of an angel rescuing Peter out of prison in the middle of the night (Acts 12:5-19), or Jesus standing beside the three young Hebrews in the fiery furnace (Dan. 3:25), or God protecting Daniel in the lion’s den (Dan. 6:23)…is that we do not know all of God’s specific higher ways yet as applied to the end-times tribulation period.

Attempting to recreate the entire end-times tribulation storyline using biblical prophecy…with added fiction to fill-in the missing details…is a difficult task in a book series like Left Behind.  The seven-year tribulation will be filled with supernatural events beyond our current imagination, and beyond what can be revealed in great detail within the scope and broad outlines of the biblical end-times prophecies…so far.

Accurately depicting the upcoming tribulation events ahead-of-time would be like trying to fictionalize beforehand the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt…while Moses is walking with Aaron toward Egypt prior to their first confrontation with Pharaoh.

The only person in existence at that precise moment who knew in detail what lay ahead in terms of the required supernatural, upcoming events in Egypt…was God.

Worldly conventional storylines filled with adventure-novel suspense, and larger-than-life fictional characters, are used by necessity and by default in the Left Behind book series, because of everyone’s current ignorance of God’s upcoming very specific and exhaustively detailed supernatural intentions.

No one but God knew in advance about God’s creative military strategy for Gideon to defeat the invading Midianites.

No one except God knew far in advance about God’s creative idea for Joshua to bring down the walls of Jericho.

No one knew until that very moment that God would honor Joshua’s request to temporarily hold back the sun’s progress across the sky until the army of Israel could defeat the enemy.

No one but God knew, far out in advance, that God could provide fresh drinking water out of barren rocks in the desert, or provide manna from heaven for the sustenance of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness for forty years.

No one knew weeks or months beforehand that God would part the Red Sea.

No one knew beforehand that the Son of God, along with two angels, would pay a personal visit to Abraham and Sarah to announce to them the upcoming conception of their son Isaac.

No one had the slightest idea in advance, other than God, that someone like Joseph of Arimathaea would unexpectedly approach Pilate regarding the disposition of the dead body of Jesus.

No one understood beforehand, except possibly John the Baptist (Jn. 1:29), or Simeon and Anna in the temple (Lk. 2:25-38), that salvation would come to mankind through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ the Son of God…by way of a partial-only first-advent fulfillment of the messianic prophecies, that would divide, separate, and offend a large portion of the Jews at that time.

Absolutely no one understood the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ ahead of time, as evidenced by the actions of everyone around Jesus.

Even with all of the Old Testament messianic prophecies so clear to us today in hindsight…the ancient Jewish practice of blood atonement for sin…and the straightforward disclosure of Jesus to the disciples of His upcoming death and resurrection weeks ahead of time…no one at the time understood the divinely creative novelty of the cross and the resurrection until after the actual events transpired.

This should at the least give us pause as we consider the enterprise of attempting to construct an end-times scenario of events from start to finish.

Worthy to Escape 3

I believe there are currently millions of Christians on the earth today who, if given their preference, instead of being immediately raptured today, would rather continue for a few more weeks, months, or even a year or two longer to complete the ministry-in-progress that God has given them.

I believe there are tens of millions of Christians on the earth today, who for whatever reason are not engaged in committed Christian service, who would appreciate one last opportunity to be mightily used of God, under the power of the Holy Spirit as prophesied will be poured out in the last days (Joel 2:28-29), for one, two, three, four, or even five years into the tribulation, before they are raptured or martyred for all time into heaven.

I believe that every born-again Christian, if they had all of the various alternatives explained to them in terms of their eternal import, would choose the fullness of the cross experience through the great tribulation if it meant the possibility of converting additional family members, friends, and neighbors to salvation quality faith in Jesus Christ, despite whatever the continued personal cost and hardship to themselves.

I do not believe that Christians have to accept uncritically the viewpoint that it is the only healthy, sane, and rational choice to want to be spared the tribulation.

We are not obligated, as an article of faith, to accept this teaching.

An early exit is not the only and obvious choice here.

Being spared trials, struggles, and tribulation is not the normal biblical pattern.  So what if Christians live under the threat of death during the tribulation for spreading the gospel message of good news?  The apostles lived daily through the persecution and tribulation of the first-century, and experienced martyr’s deaths.

The New Testament scriptures and the New Testament church were born out of persecution and tribulation (Acts 14:22).

Why would we think it would be any different for the end-times church, successfully engaged in Joel 2:28-29 evangelism, for at least some portion of the tribulation?

Luke 21:36, 1 Thessalonians 1:10, and 5:9 can just as accurately apply to some point in time part-way through the seven-year tribulation, as they might apply at the beginning of this tribulation period.

The same positive attitude we have in hindsight for the evangelical spirit of the first-century Christians is equally commendable on a going-forward-basis for the end-times Christian church as well.

A curious thing about the Left Behind books and movies is that they tell us that the tribulation period can be a difficult but positive experience for Christians.

Instead of making an air-tight case for a pretribulation rapture, they unintentionally (from a pretribulation advocacy perspective) shed light on the possibility for genuine spiritual growth through shared adversity in confrontation against the Antichrist.

The main characters in these books and movies actually become mature Christian warriors through the experiences of the tribulation, in harmony with the pattern of God beneficially capitalizing on spiritual opposition, revealed in the Bible and as discussed in this book.

This is a common theme we find in every positive character in the Bible.  God-directed and God-managed adversity separates and delivers us from self-sovereignty.

This same proven methodology could conceivably benefit the larger- sized main Christian church on a macro-scale just as easily as it could a smaller- sized contingent of “tribulation saints,” simply by shifting the rapture forward a few years into the tribulation period.

This would not change the concept of the imminence of the timing of the rapture, or alter the need for watchfulness on the part of Christians.  This would not in any way affect the differentiation between the rapture (1 Cor. 15:51-53) and the Second Coming of Christ (Mt. 24:27).  It simply means that the time-gap between these two distinctive events would be shorter than seven years.

Most of the eternal truths we learn in our Christian lives come about through some form of tribulation.  Christians, like everyone else, learn the hard-way through first-hand experience.

If this is true, then the pretribulation rapture teaching may in fact not be biblically sound.  We can’t have it both ways.  The spiritual lessons that can be learned through the trying experiences of the tribulation…will benefit someone.  Will it be the main body of the Christian church, as yet un-raptured off the earth at the beginning of the tribulation…or will it be a post-rapture smaller-sized group of “tribulation saints?”

One of the great truths of the Bible is that God is in the trial, in the struggle, in the suffering, in the fiery furnace, and in the victory with us.

God the Father did not remove the cup of suffering…the crucifixion as requested by Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.  But God the Father was in the crucifixion and in the resurrection along with Jesus the Son, for the good outcome of salvation and spiritual re-birth for all of mankind.

How can God be in the fiery trial alongside the church during the end-times tribulation, if the main body of the church is not even on the earth?

Without the catastrophic events of the end-times pulling out the rug of false security from underneath the feet of the firmly entrenched contemporary world, combined with the clearly evil worldwide spectacle of the persecution of Christians by the Antichrist…the last remaining stubborn lost sheep at the end of the ages might never re-think their wayward condition, and make their final decision for salvation through Christ.

If the biblical interpretation outlined in this book is accurate, then the Christian church needs to change its mindset quickly.  Preparation for spiritual battle (Eph. 6:13), not preparation for the rapture, needs to be the order of the day.  Christians need to begin an intimate walk of faith with Jesus Christ as our guide now, so that faith and trust in God has a chance to establish deep roots of experience to withstand the storms ahead.

Faith and trust in God, built upon an experiential foundation that contains a genuine element of risk, is one of the most difficult and challenging accomplishments in all of human life.  If the church is not raptured pretribulation, but experiences a portion of the tribulation period…working in the final harvest for a few tumultuous years…then the Matthew 7:24-27 verses about building our houses on top of solid rock, with deep foundations, applies as never before.

For the last-days Christian church, I believe the question of spiritual preparedness is one of the great issues of the age that none of us can afford to get wrong.  Christians need to come to know their God on a very personal level now.

Worthy to Escape 2

One of the central tenets of the pretribulation rapture teaching is that the church is to be judiciously spared the catastrophic events that will occur on the earth during the tribulation.

It is taken for granted that within this concept of the church being spared the tribulation…the natural desire and preference of the church likewise is to be with Jesus Christ in heaven.

This is referred to in Titus 2:13 as the “blessed hope.”

Paul writes in Philippians 1:21-24…”For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.  But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labor, yet what I shall choose I know not.  For I am in a strait between two, having a desire to depart and to be with Christ, which is far better.  Nevertheless, to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.”

Paul similarly writes in 2 Corinthians 5:8…”We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.”

Yet I do not think that anyone would suggest that Paul is saying here that he would prefer to cut short his ministry and opt for an early retirement plan…before he had completed his calling.

While making his defense before King Agrippa in Caesarea, Paul says: “Having therefore, obtained help from God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great” (Acts 26:22).

The overriding desire of Paul’s heart was to “apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:12).

Paul tells Timothy: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).

The natural inclination…to be spared the end-times tribulation…is countered by the equally powerful natural desire to test our individual spirits under fire…to see what we are truly made of under the power and anointing of the Holy Spirit…and to complete our individual callings before moving on into eternity.

Purpose is central…to fulfilling our Christian callings.

I believe that every Christian raptured early, according to the pretribulation scenario, would be watching the end-times action below on earth and saying to themselves that they would rather have liked more opportunity to labor in the final harvest of lost souls…and to further perfect their faith.

I believe they would have strongly mixed feelings about the joy of being raptured early into heaven, as opposed to being on the earth participating alongside the “left behind” tribulation saints, in the challenging end-times events taking place before their eyes…while gazing down from heaven.

I believe raptured Christians would look down upon earth, seeing neighbors, friends, and family members and say that they still could have made a contribution to the continued preaching of the gospel and the saving of souls.

I believe raptured Christians would be incensed and infuriated with righteous indignation at the deceptions and outright lies being spread by the Antichrist and the false prophets, and would give anything to be on earth again in the most aggressive opposition to these eternally damning lies, even at the cost of trading their being raptured pretribulation…to instead be martyred for their Christian service during the tribulation.

I believe that pretribulation raptured Christians would rather be numbered among the “called, and chosen, and faithful” of Revelation 17:14, to be in the frontlines of the battle rather than possibly forever being labeled as rear-echelon soldiers…raptured merely because they were Spirit-born.

I believe that the last-days Christian church would rather be trained for world-class quality spiritual warfare and go into battle to be honorably spent in committed service to Jesus Christ.

I believe we would all like to avoid the status of forever being considered untested and untried, amidst the innumerable company of overcoming saints and angels who have gone before us (Heb. 12:22-23).

I believe that every Christian would like to experience the thrill of being Holy Spirit empowered in the last days, with self-astonishing Christ-like character in action.

Christians today need to think critically about this notion that the rapture occurring before the start of the tribulation would bring a sense of fulfillment, finality, and closure to their journey of faith.

The white-robed multitudes coming out of the “great tribulation” of Revelation 7:14, those who maintained the word of their testimony of Revelation 12:11, and the saints of Revelation 14:12 who through patience keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus…all have the sense of being conquerors and overcomers.

The faithful men and women identified in these last-days prophetic scriptures have not the slightest hint of incompleteness or partial fulfillment of their heavenly calling…of being pulled out of the game too soon.

Worthy to Escape 1

“…and so that day come upon you unawares.  For like a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth.  Watch ye, therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.”                       (Lk. 21:34-36)

When it comes to reconciling the end-times worldwide task of evangelism, the necessity of experiencing the cross of Christ in our lives, and the all-important timing of the rapture…each Christian must make up their own mind.

The scriptures are not definitive in this regard.

This is why the Left Behind books and movies inserts fictional conjecture into the storylines to fill-in missing details…in the biblical end-times prophesies.

Does the rapture absolutely have to occur a few years prior to, or right at the beginning of the seven-year tribulation?

Is there something biblically unacceptable about the rapture occurring one, two, three, four, or even five years into the seven-year tribulation period described in Daniel?

Is the basis of Christian hope, that is an integral part of the doctrine of imminence, completely nullified by a mid-tribulation rapture?

Does this possible prophetic interpretation completely upset everyone’s preferred theology?

Do we all have to uniformly fall into lock-step conformity with the currently popular pretribulation rapture viewpoint as presented in books and movies?

Is it a form of minor heresy to entertain a rapture that falls somewhere mid-stream during the tribulation, giving the main Christian church an opportunity to participate in the final end-times harvest of souls, and at the same time experience first-century quality faith and trust in Jesus Christ through service under intense enemy fire?

Have Christians, who politely and gracefully dissent from the currently popular pretribulation rapture teaching…somehow fallen into the reduced status of becoming second-rate Christians?

Does a precisely timed rapture, placed amidst the occurring natural disasters and judgment plagues of Revelation…to provide maximum evangelical impact in concert with all of God’s last-ditch outreach efforts…make more sense than a pretribulation rapture fixed rigidly in place as a foreknown milestone in the sequence of events?

Does a mid-tribulation rapture placed after tens or even hundreds of millions of Christians have commendably sealed their testimony of faith in Jesus Christ with their lives as martyrs, before everyone alive on earth has made their irrevocable decision to receive the mark of the beast, make more sense in terms of Joel 2:28-29, Matthew 24:7-14, and Revelation 7:9-17?

Does Revelation 3:10 still maintain its full force and effect, if Christians are in actuality experiencing the early symptoms of the tribulation around the world right now?  Can Revelation 3:10, Daniel 7:25, Daniel 12:10, Matthew 24:21-22, 1 Peter 1:5-8, and Hebrews 11… all be reconciled like James 2:14-26 is correctly balanced and reconciled with Romans 3:28?

As I survey the contemporary Christian scene, I get the impression that many Christians think that the extremely popular Left Behind books and movies (I have read and enjoyed all twelve volumes, and watched all three movies), have adequately addressed the end-times debate, and that there is no more to be said on the matter.

But if an alternate reading of the pattern of God crafting and channeling spiritual opposition for His purposes throughout the Bible is correct, then this alternate view of the overcoming actions of God recorded in the Bible is in contrast to the notion of a sparing of the church from the intense end-times challenges through a pretribulation rapture.

If the uniform and consistent biblical record of God’s participation in the affairs of mankind since the fall in the Garden of Eden…is based in part upon God’s opportunistic mastery over every manifestation of spiritual opposition in the natural realm of situations and circumstances…then removing the Christian church from the earth pretribulation is out of character for God.

Daniel’s seven-year tribulation period would be the penultimate demonstration of God’s ability to take the evil designs of the Antichrist, take the last great worldwide evangelical outreach, and take the unconditionally committed service of the faithful Christian church in the face of enormous spiritual and political opposition, and weave all of this into a glorious tapestry that would reveal the loving character and righteous judgment of God.

The end-times tribulation would provide the opportunity for the last Christian church on earth to become seasoned and battle-tested spiritual warriors.

A Partial Revelation 4

A Journey by Advance Prior Knowledge                                      

One of the underlying principles of dispensational premillenialism is that we have the ability through the large volume of end-times prophetic scriptures…to figure out in advance most of the last-days scenario.

What this approach proposes to give us is static advance knowledge, in place of dynamic, in-the-moment faith.

A biblical journey of faith is obviously based on the concept of faith.

A journey of faith is a creation of the true and living God intended to produce the context of life events and circumstances to build a relationship.

This is a key element that validates and authenticates the God of the Bible as the one true God.

Unique journeys of faith…crafted by God to set-up routes and outcomes within the context of relational trust and faith…reveal the true nature of God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Person of the Holy Spirit.

Through ups and downs, good times and adversity, a personal relationship with God is developed that is beyond our human capacity to self-orchestrate.  A biblical journey of faith is beyond human imagination or invention, by purposeful design.

This is part of the massive gulf of divide between a new covenant revelation of God given directly to us (Jer. 31:31-34) through a God-composed and guided journey of faith, compared to man autonomously seeking to discover God through self-realization or a program of self-assigned good works.

This is central to our understanding of the upcoming end-times.

If the reality of a personal relationship with the living God is to take place, God has to fulfill His half of the relationship with something that is divinely above and outside of our ability to manufacture.

God has to bring to the relationship His divine, originally creative higher ways.

But if we have our whole story upfront…if an Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Peter, or Paul in the Bible have the complete details of their stories ahead of time…then in-the-moment, risk-filled trust in God morphs instead into an entirely different kind of journey according to advance prior knowledge.

Having complete, advance prior knowledge renders a journey of faith horizontally conventional…and flat.  If we can assemble the complete package of our upcoming life-script in advance, then our journey of faith following God shifts into a “paint-by-the-numbers” meritorious exercise of who can follow the script the best…according to our own talents and abilities.

A journey-by-advance-knowledge homogenizes the divine components of a God-composed and orchestrated journey of faith…down into a humanistic, self-energized, flat-line enterprise.

Only a biblical style journey of faith can insert the divine components of God’s higher ways in a timely and sequenced way that completes the union of our relationship with God.  A progressively unfolding revelation that sets up the uniquely biblical context of an adventure of faith is the norm in the inspired, innovative, and instructive narrative stories of faith recorded in the Bible.

The contemporary pretribulation rapture teaching misses a basic fundamental concept in this regard.

We walk by faith…not sight…because this is the route that produces a lasting and meaningful relationship with God.

A journey according to advance prior knowledge places us as captains at the helm of the voyage.  A journey according to static advance knowledge invites merit, pride, and self-performance back in as unwanted companions in our spiritual journey, which are the very components a God-crafted adventure of faith is designed to displace.

If we have all the information upfront, and can thereby maintain complete control over our lives…there is no open space remaining…in fully revealed upcoming life events and circumstances…for God to personally step-in and dynamically present the unmistakable fingerprint of His foresight in our unique callings.

If the purpose of this present world is to set-up the environment for the discovery of enduring truths though a fact-finding mission best understood as a journey of faith into the partially unknown (because the higher ways of God are divine and not human), then a premature removal of the Christian church off the earth pretribulation is inconsistent with this biblical template.

Mark 12:35-37 reads: “And Jesus answered and said, while he taught in the temple, How say the scribes that Christ is the Son of David?  For David himself said, by the Holy Spirit, The Lord said to my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool.  David, therefore, himself calleth him Lord; and how is he then his son?  And the common people heard him gladly.”

Jesus left this question hanging for His audience to ponder, and did not go on to elaborate further.

The New Testament records that Jesus spoke to the common people…using parables (Mt. 13:34).

It is okay to admit “we don’t know” everything about end-times prophecies.

This is not a cop-out.  It is not a retreat from scholarship or genuine truth-seeking.

In light of the foregoing discussion, it is not theologically or historically accurate to say that if certain end-times prophecies are in the Bible…that this implies in each and every case that God intended us to have perfect understanding of their meaning.

In some things we can only take our understanding so far.  We then leave it up to God, and walk the rest of the way by faith and trust.

Often it takes the actual events to unfold within the expanse of time to reveal truth, as patterned for us in the Bible, and as experienced in our own Christian lives.

A Partial Revelation 3

In Revelation 10:4, God actually instructs John to “Seal up those things which the seven thunders uttered, and write them not.”  This clearly indicates that God is not telling us absolutely everything through the current biblical end-times prophetic revelation.

During the preceding decades 10 A.D. and 20 A.D. leading up to the start of the ministry of Jesus Christ, there were many Jews living in Israel who had difficulty reconciling the two prevalent views of the coming Messiah as presented in the Old Testament.

Some verses portrayed a political king who would free the nation of Israel from its enemies (Isa. 11:10-12; Jer. 23:5-8; Ezek. 37:21-28), and some prophetic verses portrayed the Messiah as someone who would suffer (Isa. 53).  Combined within a single advent, these two views seemed on the surface to be in contradiction.  They needed the actual events to occur to clarify their meaning.

Some Jews, as they listened to John the Baptist preach by the river Jordan, said to themselves that something momentous was in the making, and that they would wait and see how events would unfold.

Yet no one anticipated that God Himself, through His Son Jesus Christ, would sacrifice His human body through Roman crucifixion as atonement for our sins.  This took everyone by surprise.  This is why Jesus lightly criticized the two disciples on the road to Emmaus by saying “O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.  Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?” (Lk. 24:25-26).

In hindsight, all of the Old Testament “types” and prophecies made perfect sense in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Even the brutally honest and pride humbling thought of God having to sacrifice Himself on our account, through His crucifixion for our sins, only made clear sense looking back in hindsight.  The sheer blindness of self-inflated pride would have prevented mankind from seeing beforehand our great need for God’s help.

If those Jews, pondering these events as they unfolded, kept an open mind and open heart, God eventually revealed the full truth about the nature and person of the Messiah.

Not only did people…like the apostles and disciples…come to finally understand the events of the cross and the resurrection (in hindsight)…but people like Nicodemus the Pharisee and Joseph of Arimathaea also were probably rewarded with full salvation faith (although not recorded in scripture) after the resurrection of Jesus.

These two men…like many in Israel…partially grasped the importance of the life of Jesus of Nazareth in-the-moment, as evidenced by their timely and inspired procurement of His body from the cross and the subsequent preparation of an honorable burial for Jesus.

Thousands of people were converted to faith in Jesus at Pentecost (Acts 2:41)…after the crucifixion and resurrection.

All of the truths and information about the upcoming end-times events are contained within the pages of the Bible that we hold in our hands and can study every day (excepting the upcoming Joel 2:28-29 dreams, visions, and prophecies).

Like the Jews of the first-century leading up to the ministry of Jesus, the problem is that we do not yet fully understand the prophetic verses that point forward toward the future.

Mark 15:29-30 records the amazing (in hindsight) failure of the people to comprehend the meaning of what Jesus had said…prior to His crucifixion:

29  And they that passed by railed at him, wagging their heads, and saying, Ah, thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days,

30  Save thyself, and come down from the cross.

Jesus was in the process of destroying the temple that was His body, at the precise moment these people were taunting Him, because they had no conception of what was happening.

They had no idea that when He referred to the destruction and rebuilding of the temple a few days previous to His crucifixion, that He was speaking about His own bodily death and resurrection.

The meaning of His words was locked up within an understanding of His fulfillment of age-old scriptures as the atoning Passover Lamb of God sacrifice for sin.  It took people looking backward in hindsight, including the disciples, to get this right.

The same thing may be true in our day, as we attempt to look forward and figure out with precision the upcoming events of the last days.  We may not put all of the pieces perfectly together either…as we attempt to construct a preview of end-of–time events.

Jeremiah 23:5-6 reads: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the earth.  In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely; and this is his name whereby he shall be called, The Lord Our Righteousness.”

This important prophetic verse clearly applies to Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the Messiah and our Savior.

But it shows how mistaken we can be when we apply prophetic verses to the wrong time period.  Jesus did not “execute justice and righteousness in the earth” in the immediate political and social sense.  Jesus was crowned with thorns and crucified by the religious and civil authorities.

The timing of this verse is critical to its correct application.

This Jeremiah verse applies not to the first advent of Christ in the first- century A.D., but to His second advent at the end of the ages.

How would anyone know this beforehand without further clarifying information?  We understand this verse today only through the benefit of hindsight.  Scholarly erudition before the actual events unfolded in first-century Jerusalem tragically fell short of a clear understanding of these prophetic Jeremiah scriptures.

The themes contained within the biblical narrative stories of faith are not about worldly conventional pursuits of normalcy in full possession of all of the future facts upfront.  These narrative stories are risk-filled adventures into the partially unknown in tentative faith and trust in the competency and foresight of God, often in the middle of life-and-death circumstances balanced on the edge of a precipice.

The uniquely biblical “journey of faith” is a God-composed, divinely inspired enterprise…aimed way above our individual self-interests…involving self-sacrifice for the eventual good of others and ourselves beyond anything humans could or would invent.

It goes without saying that we are to study and become familiar with the end-times prophecies found in the Old Testament, in the gospels, in the epistles, and in the book of Revelation.  We are instructed by scripture to do this.

But we are also instructed by Jesus (Mt. 24:36-51; Mk. 13:32-37; Lk. 21:34-36), by Paul (1 Cor. 1:7, 1 Thes. 5:4-6), by James (Jas. 5:7-7-8), by Peter (2 Pet. 3:11-14,), by John (1 Jn. 3:2-3; Rev. 1:3), and by Jude (Jude 21), to watch and to pray always until the coming of Jesus Christ.

In addition to studying and knowing the scriptures, this admonition to watch and pray gives a dynamic, fluid, flexible, in-the-moment element to our eventual fuller understanding of the upcoming end-times events.

In Luke 21:7, the disciples ask Jesus what everyone today wants to know: “when will these things be?” and “what sign will there be?” before these things happen.

Jesus does not answer these questions directly.  Instead, Jesus tells us what we actually need to know, and by doing so, He indirectly implies that the main Christian church will be on the earth for some of the great tribulation period and the reign of the Antichrist.

“Take heed that ye be not deceived” (Lk. 21:8), for example, has no special relevance or application to the uniqueness of the last days, unless the entire church is still on the earth.  There has always been some form of deception on earth threatening the Christian church starting from the first- century onward.

This particular warning relates to the end-times, because Luke 21:8 above includes the statement by the false deceivers, claiming to be Christ, that: “the time draweth near.”

If the main church is raptured before this, who is Jesus addressing this critical statement to…some “left behind” group of tribulation saints?

The gravity and magnitude of this warning implies that it is intended for the worldwide Christian church…Gentile believers and Messianic Jews as a whole.