Posts Tagged 'Tribulation'

Weird Bible Stories, Part 2

The book of Revelation is one weird book, especially if you don’t understand it. And plenty of Christians don’t. Many preachers don’t understand it either, and they say it’s a waste of time to even bother with it, and they’ll tell you so. That’s really bad advice, however. Reading and trying to understand what Revelation has to say comes with a promised blessing. No other book of the Bible comes with that promise; only Revelation.

Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near. (Revelation 1:3 | NIV84)

If you haven’t made an attempt to read Revelation and understand it, you’re robbing yourself of a tremendous blessing. So, because I want you to be blessed, I’ll give you a very brief thumbnail sketch of what Revelation is all about, but chapter 12 will be put under the microscope.

Simple outline

There are two very simple things you need to know if you want to grasp Revelation. First, there’s this:

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw–that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. (Revelation 1:1-2 | NIV84)

Some people call this book The Revelation of St. John, but verse one says it’s Jesus’ revelation, not John’s. Throughout the book, Jesus is showing John His revelation; the Son is showing the apostle what the Father has shown Him regarding the future. You may wonder why God the Father needed to show His Son the future. Here’s why:

No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (Mark 13:32 | NIV84)

In the first 31 verses of Mark 13, our Lord was teaching His disciples about the future, and they wanted to know when the events He was talking about would be taking place. His answer was simply that nobody knows except the Father. That was Jesus before His death, resurrection, and ascension into Heaven. Once back in Heaven, Mark 13:32 became obsolete. The revelation Jesus Christ shared with John was what He didn’t know back in Mark 13. God the Father revealed to the Son His plan for man, and the book of Revelation is simply a record of that plan written out by the apostle John.

In fact, the book of Revelation, as we call it, isn’t really a book at all! It’s a letter – a very long letter written to churches John knew needed to know this information.

John, To the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne…. (Revelation 1:4 | NIV84)

In the first three chapters, John deals specifically with issues confronting these churches. All these churches were struggling with various things. Some were suffering, others were losing their grip on sound doctrine. John offers words of encouragement, warning, and admonition to these churches. So, the first three chapters of Revelation cover things happening in John’s day. Almost nobody has anything controversial to say about anything John wrote to these churches in these chapters.

With chapter four, everything changes. The scene changes from Earth to Heaven; from John’s day on Patmos and the things happening to the churches of his day, to Heaven and Jesus’ revelation of what the future holds for the world.

After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. (Revelation 4:1-2 | NIV84)

That phrase, “after this” has a two-fold meaning. First, the obvious one: After what John did in the first three chapters – after he saw the short vision of Jesus and after he addressed the churches. The second meaning is: After the churches. In other words, the events of what John is about see in Heaven – the revelation of Jesus Christ concerning the future – will take place after the church age on Earth. We are living in “the church age,” or some people call it “the age of grace.” Whatever you call it, it will come to an end. It started with the birth of the Church in Acts and will end when the Tribulation begins. The Tribulation is “what must take place” after the churches.

Once “the church age,” or the “age of grace” is over, God’s pent-up wrath will be poured out over large swaths of the Earth. God’s wrath at the moment is being stayed or held back by the Church, but that’s going to come to an end, and this time of wrath is what we call “the Tribulation,” and it will last for seven years. It begins like this:

I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, “Come!” I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest. (Revelation 6:1-2 | NIV84)

You’ve probably heard of the infamous “four horsemen of the apocalypse,” well, this is the first one. All they represent are various aspects of God’s wrath: a political conqueror, war and violence, famine and hyperinflation, and finally death. All these things are symbolized by colored horses. The horses aren’t real. They’re symbolic. What they symbolize, however, will be real. And that goes for all the symbols found in Revelation. They symbolize real things or people or events to come. The symbols, like the horsemen, are figures that stand for something literal.  So this period of tribulation will be characterized by the conditions and people represented by the horses and their riders.

The Tribulation drags on for seven years, occupying the bulk of the chapters of Revelation. By chapter 19, the whole mess comes to an end with the armies of the Heaven led by Jesus Christ coming to subdue the Antichrist and the armies of man. It’s called Armageddon, but it’s really a non-event:

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. (Revelation 19:11-14 | NIV84)

Then, after some judgments, the Millennial kingdom begins in Revelation 20. It lasts one thousand years, then when it’s over, Satan, who will be bound during the Millennium, will be released and finally judged:

And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever. (Revelation 20:10 | NIV84)

When that’s over, the dead – all the dead from the beginning of time – will be raised and will stand before the throne of God.

And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. (Revelation 20:12 | NIV84)

This is the great separation – the separation of the sheep and goats. Those who are born again will enter into their eternal state, and those who never accepted Christ during their lives will be judged according to how they lived, and then sentenced. They have no chance for heaven. Theirs will be an eternity separated from all that is good and righteous.

Then in chapter 21, we read about the New Jerusalem and we get the smallest glimpse into the eternal state, and then finally, with the last chapter, we read a kind of summary and some encouraging words to John, the man who saw what Jesus saw:

Then he told me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, because the time is near.” (Revelation 22:10 | NIV84)

Chapter 12

So how does chapter 12 fit into all this? By the time we get to chapter 12, John has seen what will be happening during the first part of the Tribulation. That’s a lot for a human being to digest, so chapter 12 is a kind of pause; a break in the action. Yet, it’s a little more than that. It’s an explanation of some of the things John saw in the preceding chapters and it’s a way to remind him of certain things. Everything we see in this chapter is symbolic of something, or someone, else. The easiest way to break down what’s happening in chapter 12 is to identify the various symbols.

A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. (Revelation 12:1-2 | NIV84)

The identification of the woman is essential if you want to get this right. Key in understanding who this woman represents is knowing what the 12 stars symbolize, and Genesis 37:9, 10 gives us this information:

Then he had another dream, and he told it to his brothers. “Listen,” he said, “I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” When he told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, “What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?” (Genesis 37:9-10 | NIV84)

So the stars represent Rachel, Jacob, and Joseph’s brothers (the 12 tribes of Israel). The woman is just a symbol, remember, and the symbol is seen giving birth to a child. It would help if you knew Isaiah 9:6 in connection with this symbol:

For to us a child is born,to us a son is given,and the government will be on his shoulders.And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6 | NIV84)

The “us” of Isaiah is the “woman” of the sign and she represents the nation of Israel. Israel gave birth to a son, Jesus Christ. So what John is witnessing in Heaven is a very brief moment of historical fact: The Messiah came from Israel.

Why did John need to be reminded of this fact? It’s because of the rest of what he saw in this vision filled with symbols.

Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. (Revelation 12:3-4 | NIV84)

The red dragon is, as you might have guessed, Satan. Verse 9 says as much:

The great dragon was hurled down–that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. (Revelation 12:9 | NIV84)

John is witnessing, in symbolic fashion, a little more history. He is being reminded of where Satan came from and how powerful he is. He has always stood in opposition to Jesus Christ, from the moment of His birth. He’s been on the earth for thousands of years, and he’ll be on the earth during the Tribulation, leading the whole world astray, and he has the help of the fallen angels.

She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. (Revelation 12:5 | NIV84)

A little more history for John to be reminded of. This verse speaks of what will happen when Christ returns: He will rule the nations. John probably needed to be reminded of this; Jesus had told His apostles He would but with all John had been witnessing, he needed to be reminded. The second sentence refers to our Lord’s ascension. So in spite of the fact that Satan hounded Christ while He was alive on earth, the Heavenly Father took Him back home after His earthly ministry was accomplished.

The woman fled into the desert to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1 ,260 days. (Revelation 12:6 | NIV84)

Here’s a verse of explanation for John. He’s been witnessing the future and it will get very bleak for Israel. This verse explains that no matter what Satan and the antichrist have in store for Israel, and no matter how powerful Satan may be, Israel will be supernaturally protected During the worst part – the second half – of the Tribulation. This was meant to comfort the apostle.

Not only will there be great distress on earth for seven years, things will get a bit rowdy in Heaven, too. Satan and his angels will once and forever be expelled from Heaven. A lot of people find it hard to believe that Satan is in Heaven. The book of Job makes it clear that Satan has no choice but to report to God, and to submit to Him. But at some point during the Tribulation on earth, Satan and his angels will be completely cut off from God and hurled from Heaven.

When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. (Revelation 12:13 | NIV84)

Angered by his treatment, Satan will strike out even more vehemently at Israel. No wonder she will be supernaturally protected! But because he can’t have his way with Israel, Satan will turn his attention to all believers.

Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to make war against the rest of her offspring–those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus. (Revelation 12:17 | NIV84)

In extremely brief fashion, this is the essence of what chapter 12 of Revelation is all about. It’s not about signs in the heavens for us today, rather it’s all about what the Lord showed John in heaven, to remind of him of his own nation’s history and to comfort him about its future.  When dealing with Bible prophecy, it’s best to let it interpret itself.  They Bible is not a mystery, full of hidden messages and codes.  It was written for every person to understand, with the help of the Holy Spirit.  When you read crazy things about Bible prophecy being fulfilled by planetary alignments or bad weather, you’d best keep your wits about you and remember these verses:

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things.  For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.  (2 Peter 1:20, 21 | TNIV)








Obadiah, Part 2

judgement for the world

The little nation of Edom, founded by Esau, is the subject of this little book of prophecy. Verse 6 is the key verse:

But how Esau will be ransacked, is hidden treasures pillaged! (NIV)

The words “ransacked” and “pillaged” give you a clue as to Edom’s future. It didn’t have one. Edom was a vile, wicked nation that was facing God’s ultimate judgment and His wrath. There was no hope for Edom; the die had been cast, and it was up to Obadiah, the prophet, to bear the bad news.

The first verse of the prophecy serves as a sort of summary statement of the first section of it:

This is what the Sovereign Lord says about Edom—We have heard a message from the Lord: An envoy was sent to the nations to say, “Rise, let us go against her for battle”— (Obadiah, verse 1 NIV)

In this verse, we can notice how human history moves along its course. The Sovereign Lord, a major theme of Obadiah, is the prime mover. God is over all the kingdoms of this world. And yet, as we see here, there is an international political component to human history. In this case, international politics – and it’s no different today – are motivated by the selfish and self-seeking. Of significance is that God uses such nations and leaders to accomplish His purposes. Of course, the godless nations of earth have no clue that it is God behind all that they may plan and do. It may be hard to wrap your mind around it, but God was working through the conspiracy and treachery of the nations that surrounded Edom for the purpose of bringing it down.

Edom’s judgment, Verses 1 – 9

See, I will make you small among the nations; you will be utterly despised. (Obadiah, verse 2 NIV)

This whole verse is written as determinative prophecy – as something that hasn’t happened yet but God’s mind is made up about it. He has already decided to accomplish this; He WILL make Edom small compared to all the nations around it; He WILL cause Edom to be a hated nation.

The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rocks and make your home on the heights, you who say to yourself, ‘Who can bring me down to the ground?’ Though you soar like the eagle and make your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down,” declares the Lord. (Obadiah, verse 3, 4 NIV)

The thing that motivated God to judge Edom was simply pride – “the pride of its heart.” The word translated “pride” is an interesting Hebrew verb that means “to boil up,” “to seethe.” But the root word is a noun that has reference to water that boils up under pressure. You get the picture of what God thought of Edom. The Edomites thought highly of themselves; they were insubordinate; they were arrogant; they rejected any and all authority while they pursued what they wanted.

The thing that caused their pride was – if you can believe it – it’s real estate. Edom’s strategic location made it virtually impregnable and self-sufficient. They had lived in this location for generations and no enemy had been able penetrate its defenses. And the Edomites themselves were no dummies. They were shrewd people, and they had a civilization much more advanced than the nations that surrounded them.

Edom lived secluded – like eagles high up on the cliffs. And the whole kingdom was full of pride. Over in Proverbs, we read this interesting verse:

There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community. (Proverbs 6:16 – 19 NIV)

It’s not unimportant that the very first thing the Lord hates is pride, which the NIV renders as “haughty eyes.” A proud look betrays a proud heart.

To fear the Lord is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech. (Proverbs 8:13 NIV)

God hates pride. It was the thing that caused Lucifer to fall from grace and it was pride that caused man to fall. No wonder God hates pride, it destroys lives.

Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18 NIV)

The entire nation was riddled with pride, and this is what caused God to move against it. He had determined to bring it down. They took great pride in their real estate, their achievements and their treasures, but God hated what those things caused: a prideful heart and attitude.  How many people today live like the Edomites? They take pride in their achievements; in their investment accounts; in their station in life. They think they can do anything because of what they possess. A great many Christians are prideful – we’re not immune from this awful sin. Pride destroys a believer’s testimony for Christ, and it splits churches. In fact, Christians are to be exactly the opposite of prideful: we are to be humble. And the key to living in humility is living like Jesus.

In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had… (Philippians 2:5 TNIV)

What kind of attitude did Jesus have? He told us:

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:29 TNIV)

Pride was the sin of Satan and it’s the sin the kills the effectiveness of Christians. A very simple definition of pride might be this one: Pride is the attitude of life that declares its ability to live without God (McGee). That’s how a lot Christians live, whether they realize it or not. That’s how Edom lived and God’s judgments were going to be harsh.

“If thieves came to you, if robbers in the night—oh, what a disaster awaits you!—would they not steal only as much as they wanted? If grape pickers came to you, would they not leave a few grapes? But how Esau will be ransacked, his hidden treasures pillaged!” (Obadiah 1:5, 6 TNIV)

God’s coming judgments would be far worse than anything they ever experienced before. It’s bad enough to face a coming disaster, but what will make Edom’s judgment so bad is that it would come, not from enemies, but from friends.

All your allies will force you to the border; your friends will deceive and overpower you; those who eat your bread will set a trap for you, but you will not detect it. (Obadiah, verse 7 TNIV)

It’s a remarkable thing; in the world of geo-political relations, friendship is fickle. This was especially true in the case of Edom. The Edomites were long viewed as being wise and prudent people.

Concerning Edom: This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Is there no longer wisdom in Teman? Has counsel perished from the prudent? Has their wisdom decayed?” (Jeremiah 49:7 TNIV)

These people had become so infatuated with themselves – their security, their wealth, their education – that they never noticed they were being done in by their pride, manifested by their foolish behavior. So blind Edom had become, that they didn’t even notice their one-time friends had become their enemies.  E.B. Pusey wrote:

Pride and self-confidence betray man to his fall. When he is fallen, self-confidence betrayed passes readily to despair. Men do not use resources which they yet have because what they have valued, fails them. Undue confidence is the parent of undue fear.

If that doesn’t describe modern American society, nothing does.

Reasons for judgment, Verse 10 – 14

Edom’s judgment will be harsh, but God’s judgment is never without good reason. They were prideful, yes, and God hates pride. But that pride led to bad behavior and the mistreatment of God’s people. This, by the way, is something God takes very seriously.

Because of the violence against your brother Jacob, you will be covered with shame; you will be destroyed forever. On the day you stood aloof while strangers carried off his wealth and foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were like one of them. (Obadiah, verses 10, 11 TNIV)

The word translated “violence” comes from the Hebrew hamas, and refers to both moral violence and physical violence. So Edom was not only responsible for causing death and destruction to Judah but they were also demoralizing them and psychologically harming them.

In terms of physical acts of violence, it all began back when Edom refused to grant Israel passage through her borders during the Exodus and culminated when the Edomites supported Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians when he sacked Jerusalem in 586 BC.

You should not gloat over your brother in the day of his misfortune, nor rejoice over the people of Judah in the day of their destruction, nor boast so much in the day of their trouble. (Obadiah, verse 12 TNIV)

By taking at best a passive role in the destruction of Judah, Edom thought they could get on Nebuchadnezzar’s good side. That might have seemed like a good idea at the time, but before God it was reason for their destruction. Jeremiah 49:7 – 22 and 2 Kings 25 are good passages to refer to.

The Day of the Lord, Verses 15 – 21

“The day of the Lord is near for all nations. As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head.” (Obadiah, verse 15 TNIV)

For those who may have forgotten, that phrase, “the day of the Lord,” is an important one in the world of Bible prophecy. It’s not just a saying, but rather a very technical expression that refers to a very particular point in time, beginning with the Tribulation. At present, we are in a period of grace, or what some refer to as “the day of Christ.” Thanks to the work of Christ on the Cross, we are fortunate to be living during this extended time of grace, during which God’s wrath is stayed. But that won’t last forever. After the true Church is removed from the earth, the Day of the Lord will begin, and so will begin a terrible time of darkness and judgment. It’s significant that Obadiah’s word of prophecy against Edom dissolves into a word of prophecy that takes us into our future. God is in absolute control of the events on this planet of ours. Nations rise and nations fall according to His plan, and His plan runs continuous, non-stop from beginning to end.

As the Lord did to Edom, so He does to all nations. When Jesus Christ returns to this earth as King of Kings, all nations will be judged by the Lord Himself (Matthew 25). Nations will be held responsible by God for how they treated the citizens of the world, and especially for how they treated (or mistreated) God’s people. There is a precedent for this idea in Deuteronomy 21:

If someone is found slain, lying in a field in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess, and it is not known who the killer was, your elders and judges shall go out and measure the distance from the body to the neighboring towns. Then the elders of the town nearest the body shall take a heifer that has never been worked and has never worn a yoke and lead it down to a valley that has not been plowed or planted and where there is a flowing stream. There in the valley they are to break the heifer’s neck. (Deuteronomy 21:1 – 4 TNIV)

The principle, as odd as it may sound in Deuteronomy is a good one: the city closest to the slain man would be responsible to find his killer. In God’s economy, nobody gets away with anything. Psalm 9 gives us glimpse into the character of this Day of the Lord:

The Lord reigns forever; he has established his throne for judgment. (Psalm 9:7 TNIV)

All the nations of the world will be judged when the Lord returns. They will be judged, as verse 15 indicates, for how they treated other nations. Edom is sort of a sneak preview of what will happen in the future. It’s almost a template for the judgment of that nations.  In contrast to what will happen to Edom, we read this about Jerusalem:

But on Mount Zion will be deliverance; it will be holy, and the house of Jacob will possess its inheritance. (Obadiah, verse 17 TNIV)

What a contrast! Death and destruction upon Edom, but deliverance and holiness for Jerusalem. Mount Zion will be spared God’s wrath and holiness, as it is used here, suggests it will be not only spared but also set apart by God. Judah will recover lost territory and expand its borders.

The house of Jacob will be a fire and the house of Joseph a flame; the house of Esau will be stubble, and they will set it on fire and consume it. There will be no survivors from the house of Esau.” The Lord has spoken. (Obadiah 18 TNIV)

This verse refers to Israel, the northern kingdom, which had been overthrown by Sargon in 721 B.C. In accord with the prophecies of Hos. 1:11 and Ezek. 37:16-22, Israel is to join with Judah, the southern kingdom, and together they, like a flame burns stubble, shall destroy Edom (Isa. 11:13-14).

People from the Negev will occupy the mountains of Esau, and people from the foothills will possess the land of the Philistines. They will occupy the fields of Ephraim and Samaria, and Benjamin will possess Gilead. This company of Israelite exiles who are in Canaan will possess the land as far as Zarephath; the exiles from Jerusalem who are in Sepharad will possess the towns of the Negev. (Obadiah, verses 19, 20 TNIV)

These verses describe the extent of Israel’s inheritance. History tells us that during the exile of Israel the Edomites occupied towns in the south of Judah, the Negeb, an area south of Hebron toward the wilderness of Paran. After the Exile, they of the south, i.e., those who return from exile, will possess Edom, the mount of Esau. All this happened in the second century B.C. when the Jews under the Maccabees pressed out into the regions mentioned. The captivity (20) refers to the exiles. This host of the children of Israel would be the Jews deported from the northern kingdom by Sargon after Samaria’s fall in 721 B.C. The exiles from Jerusalem refers to the Jews of the Southern Kingdom carried off by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. to Sepharad, probably Sardis in Asia Minor.

Deliverers will go up on Mount Zion to govern the mountains of Esau. And the kingdom will be the Lord’s. (Obadiah, verse 21 TNIV)

Finally, Obadiah tells us that Israelite deliverers, wise men of spiritual insight and faith, will rule over Edom, the territory once occupied by the irreligious, fleshly sons of Esau. God’s plan is that the spiritual shall at last rise above the profane. And the kingdom shall be the Lord’s: the Lord shall rule over all.


The Three Appearances of Jesus, 3


The second coming of Christ to the earth, which is the third appearance of Jesus, begins with the rapture of the saints (the “blessed hope” of the Church), followed by the visible, literal, and physical return of Christ to the earth with His saints, where He will rule and reign for one thousand years.  This period is known as the Millennium and, among other things, will bring national Israel into God’s family and establish universal peace.

That paragraph, which large chunks of the Church believes, has caused a lot of theological violence over the years thanks in part to the adherence of certain denominations to something called The Westminster Confession of Faith which is a wonderful document written by men in an attempt to systematize and categorize the elements of Christian doctrine.  It’s a worthy attempt at this but, as worthy as this document is, it is necessarily flawed as it written by man.  The WCF (as it is known) devotes a scant sentence or two to the doctrine of the Second Coming.   Since the document fails to mention the rapture, the Millennium, and other Biblical elements of eschatology, churches that wholly embrace it  will have nothing to do with them.  In fact, sometimes, they are downright nasty in their opposition to them.  For some unfathomable reason  they feel positively threatened by people who hold to this orthodox, historical version of Eschatology.

Before going any further, let me assure those who may hold to a different view of Eschatology that I am not your enemy!  I have no war with you, nor do I think any less of you.  I think the WCF is an awesome document.  However, when it comes to doctrine and theology, I am of the opinion that it is better to go to the best document available:  the Holy Bible.  It’s helpful to know what others think the Bible says, but it’s essential to know what Bible says.  No Christian needs the Westminster Divines, John Calvin, Martin Luther, John Wesley, me or any other great or near-great Christians to tell them what and how to think.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.  (2 Timothy 3:16  NIV) 

With that out of the way, let’s discuss an unnecessarily hotly disputed point.  Will our Lord return before or after the Millennium?  There are those who say He will return before the Millennium; that He is One who establishes the Millennium.  Others teach that Jesus will return after the Millennium.  Still others – hold on to your seats – teach that we are in the Millennium right now.  The Bible contains the truth, and that’s what we need to know.  According to the Good Book, what will the world look like when Christ returns?  What will be the condition of man at the moment He returns?

The testimony of the prophets, Daniel 12:1, 2 

“At that time Michael, the mighty angelic prince who stands guard over your nation, will stand up and fight for you in heaven against satanic forces, and there will be a time of anguish for the Jews greater than any previous suffering in Jewish history. And yet every one of your people whose names are written in the Book will endure it.  And many of those whose bodies lie dead and buried will rise up, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting contempt.”  (TLB)

These two verses seem to put to death the notion that we are in the Millennium right now.  This is what society will look like at the tail end of the Great Tribulation, just before the Jesus returns.  We know this because Jesus used language just like this to describe world conditions just prior to His return.  But here, Daniel’s vision concerns his people, the Jews.  It will be a dark time for them “at that time,” a phrase that designates the end of the end times.  It will be a time of unparalleled anguish and suffering.   Obviously there will be no utopia on earth.

What the Gospels say

The Second Coming of Jesus will be preceded by a time of terrible distress on earth that will touch both Jew and Gentile.

Then there will be strange events in the skies—warnings, evil omens and portents in the sun, moon and stars; and down here on earth the nations will be in turmoil, perplexed by the roaring seas and strange tides.  The courage of many people will falter because of the fearful fate they see coming upon the earth, for the stability of the very heavens will be broken up.  Then the peoples of the earth shall see me, the Messiah, coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  (Luke 21:25–27  TLB) 

The kingdom of God, which is by definition “God’s rule and reign,” is here now but will be consummated and fully established at our Lord’s second coming.  To look at the what the world is like now,  it’s hard to imagine that the Lord “ruling and reigning!”  But He is.  Matthew 13 gives us a realistic view of the pathetic state of the kingdom of God as it is constituted right now.  It will be even worse just before Christ returns.

Let both grow together until the harvest, and I will tell the reapers to sort out the thistles and burn them, and put the wheat in the barn.  (Matthew 13:30  TLB) 

That’s the tail-end of a parable which tells of a farmer’s wheat field that has been infested with weeds.  The workers wanted to go out and pull all the weeds but the owner of the field, God, told His workers to hold off.  Pulling weeds – judging between saint and sinner – is not the job of the workers.  The point of that parable is that in the kingdom now are many who don’t belong here.  Just look at the state of the Christian church today.  It’s hard to know who the players are without a program!

When I return the world will be as indifferent to the things of God as the people were in Noah’s day.  They ate and drank and married—everything just as usual right up to the day when Noah went into the ark and the Flood came and destroyed them all.  And the world will be as it was in the days of Lot: people went about their daily business—eating and drinking, buying and selling, farming and building—until the morning Lot left Sodom. Then fire and brimstone rained down from heaven and destroyed them all.  Yes, it will be ‘business as usual’ right up to the hour of my return.  (Luke 17:26 – 30  TLB) 

The key words in what Jesus said are:  “Noah’s day” and “days of Lot.”  In case you forgot, neither of those days were particularly good days!  Sin was rampant.  In fact, man had deteriorated to such a state that God had no choice but to execute a devastating judgment.  In the case of Noah’s day, all life on earth was destroyed, save for the life aboard the ark.  In Lot’s day, the sinful inhabitants of a whole valley were killed.

Yes, the world was at its worst during the days of Noah and Lot.  No, things will not get better and better before the Lord returns.  It’s clear things will get worse and worse.

“But the question is: When I, the Messiah, return, how many will I find who have faith and are praying?”  (Luke 18:9  TLB) 

That’s a rhetorical question Jesus asked.  The self-evident answer is “None.”  In other words, faith will be in very short supply when Jesus comes back.

What the letters say 

It’s not only Jesus who talked about His second coming.  Paul did.  Here’s a sampling:

But the Holy Spirit tells us clearly that in the last times some in the church will turn away from Christ and become eager followers of teachers with devil-inspired ideas.  These teachers will tell lies with straight faces and do it so often that their consciences won’t even bother them.  (1 Timothy 4:1, 2  TLB) 

There has always been false teaching in the church, but it’s rampant today.  But then you can’t have false teachers in the church without eager listeners and followers in the pews.  Today’s Christian is so Biblically illiterate, it’s a sad testimony to members of my profession.  Today’s Christian will believe just anything!  They have no discernment and no understanding of or even desire to understand deeper spiritual things.  They don’t know what they don’t know.  They have itchy ears and will follow anybody whose teaching makes them feel good.

For people will love only themselves and their money; they will be proud and boastful, sneering at God, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful to them, and thoroughly bad.  They will be hardheaded and never give in to others; they will be constant liars and troublemakers and will think nothing of immorality. They will be rough and cruel, and sneer at those who try to be good. They will betray their friends; they will be hotheaded, puffed up with pride, and prefer good times to worshiping God.  They will go to church, yes, but they won’t really believe anything they hear. Don’t be taken in by people like that.  (2 Timothy 3:2 – 5  TLB) 

That’s not an editorial from “Christianity Today!”  It IS Christianity today, as seen from a vantage point of some 2,000 years ago.  Jesus once said that His church would prevail; that even the gates of Hell wouldn’t stand against it.  He was right; Hell won’t wreck the church because church members are doing a good job of that on their own.

First, I want to remind you that in the last days there will come scoffers who will do every wrong they can think of and laugh at the truth.  This will be their line of argument: “So Jesus promised to come back, did he? Then where is he? He’ll never come! Why, as far back as anyone can remember, everything has remained exactly as it was since the first day of creation.”  (2 Peter 3:3, 4  TLB) 

When there is no respect for the teachings of Scripture or the institutions of faith, people stop taking the doctrines of faith seriously.  Naturally we see this occurring in the world all the time; that shouldn’t surprise us at all.  But we are starting to see it happening in the church.  Bible teachers and pastors making fun of those of us who take Bible prophecy seriously; questioning the intelligence of their fellows who are doing exactly what the Bibles admonishes Christians to do:  watch and pray.

Once again, I ask the question: Why is knowing this important?  A lot of Christians think it isn’t.  They think it’s a foolish waste of time talking about future events that they don’t even think will happen.  And even if they are going happen in the future, what of it?  How does what will happen effect us in the here and now?  Don’t we have enough trouble today?

What we’ve been looking at today is what theologians call “the Tribulation.”  It will be period of seven years preceding the Second Coming.  It’s important to know about this time of God’s wrath because the Bible has a lot to say about it.  To dismiss the Tribulation is to dismiss large portions of the Old Testament, including whole books.  It is to dismiss the Word of the Lord to His people.  It is to dismiss significant teachings of Jesus – the Olivet Discourse – and most of the book of Revelation.  Understanding the Tribulation is to understand why “the Gospel of the kingdom” is so important and even what it is.  To dismiss the Tribulation is to dismiss God’s people, the Jews.  God’s purpose for Israel as far as the Tribulation goes is to bring about their conversion so that they may finally receive the promised blessings of prophecies dating back to Abraham.

But not only is the Tribulation vital to the future of Israel, it also demonstrates that God knows what’s going on today.  God will be judging the nations during this seven year period.  They will be judged because of their ungodliness.  This is not unimportant.  Just look around at what the nations of the world are doing:  killing innocent people; oppressing others; stealing wealth they’re not entitled to; passing laws robbing their own citizens of freedom, religious and otherwise.  They have to be punished; somebody has to hold them accountable for their atrocious actions.  God can’t give these nations a pass, and He won’t!

This is why knowing what will happen is so important.  God’s very character is at stake.  Without these seven years, God comes off looking uninformed, uncaring, uninvolved and disinterested in the world He created and the people He loves.

The End of Days, Part One

An Exposition of Matthew 24

This chapter contains the most discussed and debated teachings of Jesus in the Gospels.  Although it is paralleled in both Mark and Luke, Matthew’s version of what we call “The Olivette Discourse” contains material found in no other Gospel.   Understanding the teachings of Jesus in this chapter, and the following chapter, is essential if one is to have a complete understanding the nature of the “last days.”  Indeed, grasping the truths of the prophetic books of Daniel and Revelation would be impossible without the words of Jesus in Matthew because it is the key that unlocks the mysteries of Revelation chapters 6-19 and Daniel chapter 9.

1.  The occasion, verses 1 and 2

Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings.  Do you see all these things?” he asked. “I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

As the chapter opens, we see Jesus leaving the great temple complex for the very last time.  It is late afternoon on the Tuesday before the Passover Lamb is going to offer Himself as an atonement for the sins of man.  It’s a busy day, and Jesus is accompanied by His friends, who remarked on the beauty of the temple buildings in response to something Jesus said in Matthew 23:38,

Look, your house is left to you desolate.

To the disciples that was a very curious statement because the temple and its associated buildings were anything but desolate that day; it was just before the Passover, and Jerusalem was teaming with visitors and the temple would have been a beehive of activity.  What was Jesus talking about?  So, they pointed this out to Him, and He restated what He previously said:  the temple would be utterly destroyed.  This must surely have  been a baffling statement to the disciples.  The temple in Jerusalem was magnificent.  It was massive, it was a true testament to man’s engineering abilities and his devotion to his religion.  Of the temple in Jerusalem, the Psalmist wrote:

It is beautiful in its loftiness,
the joy of the whole earth.
Like the utmost heights of Zaphon is Mount Zion,
the city of the Great King.

Walk about Zion, go around her,
count her towers,

consider well her ramparts,
view her citadels,
that you may tell of them to the next generation.  (Psalm 48:2, 12-13)

If the temple in the Old Testament could elicit such emotion, imagine what it must have been like for the disciples of Jesus’ day, when the temple had been greatly enlarged and lavishly adorned under King Herod!  Of that temple, Edersheim wrote:

Nor has there been, either in ancient or modern times, a sacred building equal to the temple, whether for situation or magnificence.

In Baba Batra, a Jewish essay which concerns things like houses and yards and regulations for such buildings, we read this:

He who never saw Herod’s edifice has never in his life seen such a beautiful building.

So, to the minds of the disciples, who had grown up around this temple, what Jesus had just said must have been both baffling and startling.

3.  The three pertinent questions, verse 3

As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

Some time later, Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, which is a very appropriate location for a teaching on the Parousia, the Second Coming, considering what the prophet Zechariah wrote concerning this singular event:

On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south.  (Zechariah 14:4)

Mark, in his Gospel, says that Peter, James, John, and Andrew were the ones who asked Jesus this question in private.  It is likely the other disciples were present, but that these four were the ones raised concerns about what Jesus had just said.  The word “privately” simply means that the following teachings were given only to the disciples, no one else was present.

There were three questions raised:

  • Tell us, when will this happen?
  • What will be the sign of your coming?
  • And of the end of the age?

Taken individually, the answers to these three questions paint a panoramic picture of Bible prophecy that encompasses the time of the early church to the end of days, a period of history yet to be written that the Bible calls “the Great Tribulation.”

(a)  Tell us, when will this happen?

This first question refers to the destruction of the temple, which was fulfilled in 70 AD by the Romans.  They sacked and destroyed not only the temple grounds, but the decimated the whole city of Jerusalem.  This horrible event in Jewish history was also prophesied by Daniel:

After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed.  (Daniel 9:26)

At the time Jesus spoke of the temple’s utter destruction, some 40 years hence, there was peace all over the world; no word of prophecy seemed more improbable.  The Jewish nation, though subject to Rome, was at peace and the armies of Rome were obligated to protect the Jews, not destroy them!  Yet, within a generation, the words of Jesus came to pass with precision.  After a three year siege by Vespasian, then his son, Titus, Jerusalem was taken, much of it destroyed, and the temple utterly destroyed in August of 70 AD.  All exactly as Jesus had said.

(b)  What will be the sign of your coming?

It’s important that we read that question carefully, noting who is asking it, and the words used.  This question is being asked by Jews concerning the coming of their Messiah.  By now, the disciples seemed to understand who Jesus was and that He was going away but that He would return as their Messiah, the One their ancient prophets wrote about.  Theirs was, in fact, a very Jewish question, for centuries the Jews had been looking for a longing for their Messiah to come.  So this question was perfectly natural.

Notice also that they were not asking about  signs of the coming rapture.  The rapture does not concern Jews, but it concerns the removal of the Church, all born again believers, from the earth to meet Christ in the air, as taught by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17.  The disciples were not asking Jesus about that because Jesus never taught anything about the rapture.  That “mystery” was left for Paul to reveal.  Jesus, however, often spoke about His return to earth physically, and this is what the disciples were asking about.

This is important to keep in mind because all that follows, that is, all the signs Jesus is about to talk about, do not relate to the rapture of the Church but to world conditions just prior to His literal, physical return to Earth.  There are, in fact, no signs leading up to the rapture of the Church.

Here are the signs leading up to the Second Coming of Christ as enumerated by Christ in Matthew 24:

  • There will be false messiahs, verse 5
  • There will be wars and rumors of wars, verse 6.  Of course, there have always been wars or at least the threat of wars in every generation of man, but they will increase just prior to the return of Christ.
  • The third sign will be nations rising against nations, verse 7.  There will be a grappling for power and world dominance in the days preceding the coming of Christ.
  • Famines will be the fourth sign that the Lord’s return is soon, verse 7.
  • There will also be an increase in earthquakes during this time, verse 7.

All these things, says Jesus, are the beginning of birth pains, verse 8.  The word translated “birth pains” is also used in 1 Thessalonians 5:3 this way:

While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

Paul was writing about the same time period as Jesus was talking about.  The troubles listed in Matthew 24 will characterize the time period we call “The Tribulation,” a period of seven years following our age, the Age of Grace, and preceding the Messianic Age of the Millennial kingdom.

  • The sixth sign, in verse 9, will be the dreadful persecution of believers during this time.  This shows us that even after the Church is removed from the scene, people will still come to Christ as Savior.  What will it be like for them?  The Greek word translated “persecuted” in the NIV come from the verb thlibo, which means “press.”  It is used to describe the crushing of grapes to get the wine out.  This is a vivid description of life for those who find the Lord during the Tribulation period.
  • The treatment of believers will lead to the seventh sign in verse 10, with people betraying each other, forsaking their faith just to stay alive.
  • Verse 11 speaks of the eighth sign, the rise of false prophets who will deceive many into following them.
  • The ninth sign in verse 12, which is found only in Matthew,  is ominous.  Lack of love will characterize people during the Tribulation.  During this time, as man grows more and more wicked and self centered, the love of most will grow cold, says Jesus.
  • The tenth sign, only given in Matthew, gives us an inkling of something that will be happening during the seven year Tribulation:  the Gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, verse 14.
  • The next sign will be, as Jesus said, ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel.  Jesus is making reference to something Daniel prophesied about.  In fact, Daniel mentions this “thing” three times.  One reference is Daniel 9:27,

He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’  In the middle of the ‘seven’  he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And at the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.

This is referring to something that the Antichrist will do in the temple in the middle of the seven-year Tribulation.  We also know that in 168 BC Antiochus Epiphanes marched into the Holy Holies and erected a pagan altar to Zeus, thus desecrating the temple God.  We see here a dual fulfillment of what was prophesied.  The Antichrist will do the same kind of thing when he turns on the Jews.

  • After the temple is ruined, conditions for the Jews will be so bad, according to verse 16, many will flee to the mountains to hide out.  This was partly fulfilled with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, but  according to what Jesus said in verse 21, He is also referring to a time in the future far worse than the world has ever experienced before.

For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again.

  • Verse 23 indicates that  just before He returns, there will be more false messiahs, more people claiming to the Christ.  Jesus is warning those who follow Him not to be deceived, and He is telling His disciples all this, not to frighten them, but out of love.  Verse 25 is a compassionate statement:  See, I have told you ahead of time.


Invariably, whenever these verses are taught or preached, people wonder what will happen to them.  Some Christians believe the Church will go through this period of great distress.  Others teach the Church will be removed at some point during the Tribulation.  If you are born again, if Jesus Christ is your personal Lord and Savior, you have nothing to worry about.  Consider what Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, people who were prone to worry:

Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.   (1 Thessalonians 5:1-10)

“God did not appoint us to suffer wrath.”  Indeed, for us, for believers, Jesus suffered God’s wrath so that we don’t have to, ever; not now, not during the Tribulation, not in all eternity.  You and I, because of what Jesus did for us at Calvary, are considered worthy to escape the coming wrath.

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.  (Luke 21:36, KJV)

Next time, we will examine the most startling signs of “the end of the age,” the moments just before Christ returns to the Earth.  We will also look briefly at some parables Jesus taught to help His disciples  understand what He was teaching.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

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