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 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.

A Partial Revelation 2

The resurrected Jesus could have walked down the main streets of Jerusalem and right into the temple, removing any doubt as to His true identity and nature.  But that would have upset the delicate balance between the virtue of faith and the freedom to remain in unbelief.  It would be giving away too much information.  The finely balanced spiritual equation of repentance, faith, and righteousness within the context of this broken world…does not always include a full revelation of all pertinent information upfront (Ex. 4:1-17; 1 Cor. 13:12).

Absolutely no one ahead of time understood the upcoming resurrection of Jesus which was to occur three days after His crucifixion.

Luke 22:49 records the disciples asking Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane whether they should “smite with the sword” to defend Him.

Peter weeps bitterly after failing to stand by Jesus at His trial.

The disciples scatter for their lives after the arrest of Jesus, not realizing their temporary situation was secure until the disposition of Jesus of Nazareth was finally decided.

The religious leaders think that by killing Jesus they will be rid of Him and His movement.

Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus wrap the dead body of Jesus in linen strips according to the Jewish custom for permanent internment.

The women come to the tomb early Sunday morning to anoint the body of Jesus with spices for permanent internment.

The disciples initially reject the first reports of the resurrection of Jesus.

The two men walking with the resurrected Jesus toward the town of Emmaus are sad, because they still do not have any idea that Jesus through the cross and the resurrection has purchased for them their eternal salvation that very day.

All of this, even though Jesus told people ahead of time that He would rise from the dead (Mk. 9:31-32; Mt. 27:63).

People at the time missed the upcoming resurrection of Jesus because they were stuck in horizontally conventional thinking.

Consider the Apostle Paul as he travels toward Jerusalem for the last time.

Paul is surrounded by Spirit-filled men, even the well-known Jerusalem prophet Agabus, all beseeching Paul not to proceed forward into the personal threat he faces at Jerusalem.

After the tumult in Jerusalem, as Paul sits in the prison at Caesarea, these same Spirit-filled Christian companions could have said to Paul in hindsight “we told you so.”

Yet only God could see that He was changing the ministry of Paul from a church planting evangelist to a writer of the final four “prison” epistles, within a quiet time for reflection and under the physical protection afforded a prisoner of the Roman Empire.

Everyone missed this ahead of time as God worked-out His higher purposes in the midst of incredibly tight circumstances…that characterize the narrow gate for a person following Jesus Christ in faith…and without care for their own personal safety (Acts 21:13).

The contention made by pretribulation proponents today that because the Bible is rich in prophetic content we should therefore be readily capable of accurately interpreting end-times prophecy ahead of time…is in my opinion an over-reach of horizontally conventional thinking.

The notion that we can piece together all of end-times prophesies in a highly detailed sequential chain of events, fundamental to the pretribulation program, should at the very least be approached with some amount of healthy questioning based upon the brief arguments made above.

The best current projection of upcoming events can only be partially accurate…because all of the end-times information is not in yet.

Human intellect combined with an assessment of current events can only take us so far at this point in time.

As frustrating as this may be to human intellectual pride and hubris, we still need to exercise faith regarding our full understanding of upcoming biblical end-times prophecies.

We will need Holy Spirit revelation according to the Joel 2:28-29 verses to illuminate more fully the whole end-times picture.  We will need Spirit-filled Christians having the gift of prophecy to contribute additional details according to God’s will and timing, with a “thus sayeth the Lord” quality of authority to back up their pronouncements, over and above mere human intellectual, scholarly opinion.

A Partial Revelation 1

“And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions;  And, also, upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my Spirit.”                                                                                                       (Joel 2:28-29)

A biblically accurate starting premise in approaching the study of end-of-time prophetic future events is to recognize that God has purposely kept some portion of the information incomplete and obscure.

A thoughtful Bible student can approach this admittedly difficult subject of end-times prophecy with the beginning assumption that no person has it all figured out to the last detail, because no one can figure it all out, by God’s purposeful intention.

Even as Jesus is explaining in clear language His upcoming crucifixion and resurrection to the disciples, as fulfillment of Old Testament messianic prophecies, Jesus knows they are not completely getting it.

Yet there is no record in the gospels of Jesus going back over this critical subject repeatedly four or five times, until the disciples understand perfectly.  Jesus knows it will all make sense later in hindsight.

An argument can be made that the crucifixion itself is a product of the Pharisees and scribes tragically misreading the messianic prophecies as a direct result of faulty living…adversely fulfilling the very prophecies they thought they completely understood upfront.

If the messianic prophecies were crystal clear no one would have made the tragic mistake of crucifying Jesus of Nazareth.

God indeed has everything in the last-days planned out to the smallest detail.  But by not revealing all of it for the present time, God keeps us engaged and in a state of watchfulness.  Our personal relationship with Jesus Christ is always the underlying theme behind all of the works of God, including the subject of end-times prophecy in the Bible.

The amount and specificity of information that God reveals in scripture is always a function of what He is attempting to accomplish in dividing truth from error for us through real-life experiences in the present-moment.  Some of the end-times biblical prophecies will only become clear after all of the events are over.

A second component of this idea of purposely incomplete prophetic revelation is the good wisdom of God in not revealing all of the fine details of His plans to the opposition upfront.

Telling Lucifer and the other fallen angels all of God’s strategic plans ahead of time, within the end-of-time prophetic scriptures contained in the Bible…would be counterproductive in the extreme.

This interpretation is consistent with the approach that God has taken with all Bible prophecy.  Some element of hindsight is usually involved in putting all of the prophetic pieces of the puzzle together after-the-fact.

Once the fulfillment of a particular biblical prophecy has been locked into historical place by the occurrence of the actual events themselves in time, then the opportunity for spiritual opposition to fully anticipate the prophecy ahead of time…and possibly adversely alter the God-intended outcome…has safely passed.

For example, the Psalms 22 prophecies regarding the crucifixion were just vague and obscure enough so that the religious rulers in Jerusalem did not connect them in advance to Jesus of Nazareth, yet precise and specific enough to be clear in hindsight.

Psalms 22:16 reads: “…they pierced my hands and my feet.”

If God had given away more detailed information in this prophecy, such as the shape of a wooden cross, the use of five to seven-inch long metal spikes, and the piercing of the hands and feet as a slow and tortuous method of execution causing weakness through blood loss leading eventually to asphyxiation, then everyone would have been forewarned centuries beforehand of the divine intention hidden within this prophecy, through the well-known and widespread practice of Roman crucifixion.

The question can be asked, what would be the motivation for God to give away too much overly specific information in this prophecy?  God would then have had to come up with another means for sacrificial atonement other than the cross of Christ, for mankind’s sins.

Jesus Christ shed His blood while hanging on a wooden cross…in sin atonement as the sacrificial Passover Lamb of God after the ancient pattern of the blood atonement given by God to the Levitical priesthood.

Too much information given away in Psalm 22:16 would have tipped-off the religious and civil authorities ahead of time, and spoiled Roman crucifixion as God’s totally unanticipated and unexpected method for Christ’s substitutional atonement.

God reveals just the right amount of information in Psalms 22:16 to accomplish His purposes.  One of the true marvels of Psalm twenty-two is that David heard God’s voice accurately, and got the wording of each of these critical prophecies just right.

Micah 5:2 reads: “But thou, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”

Hosea 11:1 reads: “When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.”

Isaiah 11:1 reads: “And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots.”

The Apostle Matthew included in his gospel that Jesus was born in Bethlehem (Mt. 2:1), returned to Israel from Egypt as a small child (Mt. 2:15), and grew up in Nazareth (Mt. 2:23).  Matthew obtained this information from only three probable first-hand sources…Mary the mother of Jesus, or Jesus Himself after His resurrection, or James the half-brother of Jesus.

The chief priests and Pharisees prided themselves in knowing the prophetic scriptures pertaining to the Messiah, as witnessed by their indignant response to Nicodemus who had suggested to his colleagues that they give Jesus a fair-minded hearing:

“Art thou also of Galilee?  Search, and look; for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet” (Jn. 7:52).

Yet, all these priests and Pharisees had to do to resolve this question of the birthplace of Jesus was to simply ask Mary the mother of Jesus, or to ask Jesus Himself.  They did not ask this direct question because they had already made up their minds that Jesus was an unsuitable candidate according to their preconceived idea of what the promised Messiah would be like.

Again, these prophecies regarding the origin of Jesus Christ, authenticating His claim to be the Messiah, were just vague and obscure enough so that the religious rulers did not connect them to Jesus of Nazareth, yet precise and specific enough to be crystal clear in hindsight…as given to us by Matthew.

God did not foretell through a singular, composite verse in the Old Testament that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem and come out of Egypt and be called a Nazarene (as Matthew interpreted the prophet Isaiah’s 11:1 verse).

God did not combine these three verses together neatly in one location in the sacred text for the convenience and illumination of the readers.  Thus combined they would have unmistakably pointed to Jesus of Nazareth as the only possible Messiah.  God kept these verses separated in the Old Testament, so as to be purposely obscure to the religious leaders in Jerusalem in the first- century, yet crystal clear in hindsight when put together after-the-fact by Matthew.

One Purpose for the Great Tribulation 4

Finally, if Jesus was the leader of a small band of warriors like David, when He stood up to read from the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue in Nazareth, the townspeople would never have reacted with such outwardly violent opposition to His words (Lk. 4:28-30).

The townspeople would have respected His worldly power and feared His military might, keeping their opinions to themselves.  Jesus is led by the people of Nazareth to the edge of a cliff to be thrown over to His death because Jesus has no worldly influence, honor, or respect to intimate anyone.

The townspeople in the synagogue in Nazareth ask: “…is not this the carpenter, the son of Joseph?”  The growing reputation of Jesus as a prophet came from areas outside of His hometown (Lk. 4:14).

Jesus had no reputation as a “somebody” in a worldly sense to be feared and respected.  Jesus was an outcast and lowly among his native town.  He did not fit-in in a worldly sense.  Otherwise the people of Nazareth would never have thought they were free to be offended with Jesus to the point of throwing Him off a nearby cliff.

Jesus is the perfect, sinless, Passover Lamb of God sacrifice for our transgressions within a worldly-free package having no pedigree, wealth, social standing, or outward appeal.

Jesus did not resort to appealing to worldly power.  Jesus lived a spotless life amidst no worldly influence, material success, or cultural acclaim.  Yet Jesus purchased through the cross and the resurrection the power to give eternal life.  Jesus has the power to effectuate the second birth of John 3:3.  Eternal life through the Son of God comes through zero worldly stature or authority.

This means we can live godly lives “in Christ” pleasing to the Father, likewise with or without any worldly acclaim, influence, or stature.

But more importantly for the discussion in this chapter, the complete lack of appeal to worldly influence in the life and ministry of Jesus tells us that Jesus as King and Ruler is the diametric opposite of hypocrisy.

Jesus does not have to resort to worldly acclaim, influence, and appeal to impress the world.  Jesus is the perfect, sinless Lamb of God sacrifice despite being devoid of outward worldly appeal.

By contrast, the son of perdition of 2 Thessalonian 2:3…to be shortly revealed by the upcoming events and circumstances of the great tribulation…is the negative attack-ad character-assassin specialist…is the vilest hypocrite.  He promises peace and safety according to a modified version of the promise of worldly power he made to Jesus of Nazareth in the temptation in the wilderness (Lk. 4:1-13), without the lightest intention or capacity to offer anything other than destruction and ruin for all who choose to follow him.

In my opinion, the Christian church has to participate in the exposure of this vast contrast between the genuine King and Ruler of the realm, and the counterfeit impostor who would like to overthrow God and assume His position.

The only Person in all of existence smart enough to outmaneuver and trap Lucifer in his deceptive lies and hypocrisy…is God Almighty.

But for our benefit, for a discovery of the knowledge of good and evil to reach its full extent, the Christian church will be engaged in the middle of the action as previewed in every narrative story of faith recorded in the Bible.

One Purpose for the Great Tribulation 3

Offenses Must Come (Matthew 18:7)                                 

The question can reasonably be asked, why did God not openly expose Lucifer in the Garden of Eden?  Why did God not thoroughly and irreparably expose Lucifer during the ministry of Jesus Christ in the first century?  Why does God allow Lucifer to continue this hiding-game of deception even to this day?

Why will Lucifer be able to continue as a formidable deceiver and a liar, apparently part-way into the great tribulation, before he is finally exposed and revealed according to this 2 Thessalonians 2:3 verse?

Why does God allow what amounts to the equivalent of an open forum process, where unbelief, rebellion, and deception have a viable platform, to continue unabated to express their destructive worldviews under the cover of high-minded, good-natured, and well-meaning debate?

Why does God allow people the total freedom to continue to make eternally decisive, self-destructive wrong choices?

Lucifer’s classically deceptive statement in the Garden of Eden reads: “Ye shall not surely die.  For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5).

Mankind, represented through Adam and Eve, sadly swallowed this massively deceptive temptation “hook, line, and sinker,” without requiring the slightest backup evidence or character references from Lucifer to qualify him to be able to make such cleverly disguised, yet boldly critical statements about God.

One answer to the question why God has not thoroughly exposed Lucifer is contained within the nature of Lucifer’s rebellion, and the subsequent fall of man.

Lucifer’s rebellion against God in heaven had absolutely nothing to do with the quality of God’s management of the affairs of the universe.  Lucifer wanted God’s seat of power…pure and simple.  Lucifer’s rebellion was a raw power-grab.

Lucifer offered himself as a credible leader in place of God based upon appearances rather than substance.

Like Absalom’s rebellion in the Old Testament against his father David’s reign as king…no attempt at high-minded debate regarding competence, credentials, or agenda was made.

Like Absalom, Lucifer depended upon good looks, appealing charm, and persuasive smooth-talk, leaving out any specifics as to how things could be done better under his rule.  Absalom rode upon the coattails of his father’s existing beneficial reign as Israel’s King, with Absalom’s supporters uncritically assuming that Absalom possessed the same high quality of character and leadership abilities as David, yet in a more popular and outwardly charming package.

Lucifer, like Absalom, offered himself as an improvement in place of the existing ruler God, rather than offering an improvement in the ideological agenda to replace the existing policies and leadership regime.

Lucifer’s rebellion was an attempted coup, a change of personnel, not a reformation of ideas.  Lucifer has no ideas of his own, no positive agenda, other than to steal and corrupt God’s existing program.

Lucifer by nature is a destroyer, not a builder, with the fatal character flaw of insatiable ambition.

God lovingly created mankind with a need for fellowship with God, and Lucifer cleverly hides within religion, inserting himself into the very seat and object of worship where God should rightfully reside.

This is the really dangerous and eternally threatening part of Lucifer’s rebellion…contained within the subsequent fall of mankind.

A brilliantly executed negative attack-ad campaign by Lucifer against God, combined with deceptive good looks and charm, do not make a qualified god who can effectively and capably rule the universe.

But this approach almost enabled Absalom to topple his father David from the throne of Israel.  This approach did actually bring about the successful temptation in the Garden of Eden.  We see the negative consequences of sin as objective fact every day in our newspapers and on the nightly news.

This cleverly and cunningly devised challenge to God’s rulership and authority, even though it contained absolutely no substance and had no positive agenda of its own, nonetheless required an equally well thought-out and executed counter-response from God at the highest level.

The entire course of biblically recorded human redemptive history…down through the preceding roughly seven thousand years…might be partially characterized as God allowing the consequences of unqualified ambitious rebellion to demonstrate its ill effects through real-life situations and circumstances.

The platform of information that makes up God’s qualifications and positive agenda, which is deceptively by-passed in a beauty contest based solely upon outward appearances, and which is ignored altogether in a cleverly conducted attack-ad campaign, God has nonetheless managed to submit into the human experience through the four dimensions of space and time.

The credentials and qualifications of Lucifer to be able to criticize God, which should have been required upfront and carefully examined in the Garden of Eden, but which were gullibly accepted by mankind without question, are now being exposed and scrutinized in agonizing detail through the long course of human history.

Lucifer can say whatever he wants using words alone.

But the difference between the disaster that occurs when man sits atop the throne of his life as a spiritual rebel against God, contrasted with the glory of redeeming character transformation that rescues people from personal destruction through repentance and a journey of faith following Jesus Christ as Lord, is acted out every day through the medium of this current life on earth.

The real truth regarding the credentials and character of God are being discovered every day in the progress being made in Christian apologetics, in the field of intelligent design, in Christian service to the world, and in individual journeys of faith following Jesus Christ.

God could alternately choose to write across the sky this afternoon with large flaming letters for everyone on earth to read, that Jesus Christ the Son of God is the outward expression of the Triune nature of God, and to worship only Him.  But then the freedom to choose between belief and unbelief would also end this afternoon.  And a journey of faith voluntarily following Jesus Christ through this broken world, having real consequences and eternally valuable spiritual lessons, would also come to an end.

Mankind’s corporate enlistment by Lucifer into his rebellion against God does not excuse our individual rebellion.  Each of us has individually sinned against God in our own rebellious ways.

When we repent and ask God’s forgiveness, He forgives each of us individually.  God places His hand upon our shoulder, looks into our eyes, and says: “I forgive you.”

But even though God completely and thoroughly forgives us, we are still in the same vulnerable, uninformed position regarding the nuances of deception…as were Adam and Eve in the Garden.  Even though the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin, we still have the issues of Lucifer’s successful temptation in the Garden of Eden to resolve.  For the remainder of our Christian lives, we still have to wrestle against this self-centered fallen nature we inhabit (Rom. 7:23-25).

This is why God created the vehicle called a journey of faith, and why He gave us the Holy Spirit to live within us to lead and guide us into all truth (Jn. 16:13).

This is why God inspired the writing of the Bible, recording the adventures of the people of faith in the Old and New Testaments as patterns and examples of His correct interaction with His followers.

This is why the current environment of our broken world is the proving ground for truth and error to be a demonstration in action.

This is why God allows belief and unbelief to operate side-by-side in opposing tension in our world, not decisively exposing the ultimate pros and cons of truth versus error, for the time being.

Christians have to experience first-hand for ourselves the truth or falsity of this enormously destructive attack-ad by Lucifer, first proposed in the idyllic Garden of Eden so long ago, that our happiness somehow lies in being our own gods atop the thrones of our lives, apart from God.

For Christians to become spiritually wise, mature, and savvy regarding the knowledge of good and evil, these first-hand experiential lessons must be out-there and in-play within the context of real-life situations and circumstances.

One of the important questions explored in this book, is whether or not this all-important journey of faith, which is a God-led tour into the discovery of the fundamental issues that are the basis for eternal happiness and peace, comes to an abrupt halt for Christians at the start of Daniel’s seven-year tribulation period through the rapture of the church?

If the seven-year tribulation is a culmination of the theme of the story that God has been writing over the last roughly seven thousand years…through the Bible…through the nation of Israel…through the church age…and through the journeys of faith that Christians are currently experiencing…then the natural conclusion would lead a person to think that the church would be a major participant, rather than an absentee raptured bystander, in this final chapter of redemptive history.

The tribulation is the crisis-filled environment of events and circumstances capable of bringing the substandard qualifications of the deceiving, negative attack-ad specialist Lucifer out into the open.  God has perfectly timed this absolute and final exposure of truth versus error, of the demonstration of pure love versus self-centered ambition, of the characters and motivations of everyone, to be revealed for all to see at the close of human redemptive history.  The universe and our natural world were created for just such an explosive final ending.

One Purpose for the Great Tribulation 2

The Father of Lies (Jn. 8:44)                                  

The rebellion of Lucifer is like the modern-day politician whose strategy is to bring down his election opponent through negative attack-ads, rather than through the presentation of a straightforward policy agenda that can be honestly and openly debated on its merits.

Lucifer actually has nothing constructive to offer.  Lucifer has no positive agenda of his own.  Lucifer cannot compete against God head-to-head in the arena of righteousness, holiness, and competence.  If Lucifer is to get the power and position that he covets, to be ruler of the universe in place of God, he will have to resort to devious and underhanded methods.  Taking-on God straight-up is a losing proposition for Lucifer.

The temptation in the Garden of Eden is therefore a cleverly crafted deception and a lie about the character of God, not a commendable, honorable approach having substance that can be debated on common ground…with the program of God.

What is so brilliantly deceptive, but so damnably evil, about the temptation in the Garden of Eden, is that the slander of God’s character by Lucifer carries with it the false presumption that Lucifer is thereby on an equal footing with God, without first having to establish Lucifer’s bona fide credentials for criticizing God.

Like the political candidate who skillfully uses negative attack-ads against his opponent, the mere presentation of a criticism, according to the higher moral fabric of the universe, automatically implies that the person making the criticism somehow has the qualifications and right standing to do so.

An elevated, good-natured, respectful to one’s opponent, fair-minded debate between opposing viewpoints belongs within the high moral plane of God’s world.  Political candidates who critically scrutinize their opponent’s viewpoints at this elevated level are rightly considered to be engaging in commendable, constructive, and honorable pursuits of truth that will achieve good government and thereby benefit society.

The negative, spurious, and unfounded attack-ad character assassination of one’s political opponent as a successful campaign strategy, is a product of the sinful fallen nature of man, and is not a part of God’s world at all.

But an unscrupulous person can move up or down at will between these two levels of conduct, claiming the legitimacy of the higher-minded zone while actually engaging in the worst form of untruthful character assassination.

This is the subtlety of deception that Lucifer introduced into the world through his rebellion against God.

By questioning God’s underlying motives regarding Adam and Eve and the forbidden fruit, Lucifer is presuming to place himself in the undeserved and unjustified high position of criticizing God.  By questioning God’s character through this deceptive temptation, Lucifer is unilaterally elevating himself (through incredible pride, arrogance, and what the British would call “cheek”) up to an equal footing with God without even having to present his qualifications beforehand.

By deceptively playing the part of being a constructive critic within the higher zone of good-natured and fair-minded debate, Lucifer is granting himself the freedom to pass judgment upon the actions of God, which he is in no way qualified to do.

The willingness to ruthlessly attack a political opponent’s personal character with untrue and slanderous lies, while running for office, does not in any way establish a candidate’s own qualifications for becoming a good and effective public servant.

This is what is so damnably dishonest, dishonorable, and deceptive about Lucifer’s attitude and tactics.

We know from reading the New Testament that Lucifer hid behind the outwardly acceptable religious appearance of the first-century Pharisees, scribes, and lawyers, who eventually managed to instigate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ the Son of God.

We know from history that Lucifer hid behind the Roman Catholic Church in the sixteenth century, threatening dissenters and potential reformers with excommunication and the terrors of the Inquisition, until Martin Luther successfully began the Protestant Reformation.

We know that Lucifer is currently hiding behind all forms of liberalism, religious relativism, and worldly compromise within Christendom today.  These modern forms of spiritual deception are just as difficult to uproot and overturn as these earlier challenges.