Thursday, July 7, 2011

Know God, Part Six: Promised Protection

And there will be strange signs in the sun, moon, and stars. And here on earth the nations will be in turmoil, perplexed by the roaring seas and strange tides. People will be terrified at what they see coming upon the earth, for the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming on a cloud with power and great glory. So when all these things begin to happen, stand and look up, for your redemption is near! Luke 21:25-28 
Stand! And look up! These are the commands given to believers concerning the coming of our King and the otherwise frightening time that will precede his return. Notice, it doesn't say, "So when all these things begin to happen, tremble and be terrified... or, stick your head in the sand and pretend the prophecies don't exist." We do not need to be afraid of the events that are happening in our world environmentally, politically and spiritually. We do not need to be afraid to study the prophecies in our Bible that tell us what kind of a future to expect. And we absolutely do not need to be afraid of the wrath that's coming on this earth.
"For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ." 1 Thess. 5:9
If you have missed the previous posts in this series, you can find them here: part one, part two, part three, part four, and part five. We've looked at the significance and relevance of prophecy, specifically end times prophecy. And most recently, we looked at our current world events and recent history in light of what the Bible has to say about end times. As I stated in the previous posts, I believe that the physical return of Jesus Christ is coming very quickly, an event which will be preceded by seven years of "tribulation". But before we get into what's coming during that time of wrath, I wanted to take a moment to reassure anyone who is reading this that there is no need to fear.
2 Timothy 1:7 says, "For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline."
If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you WILL NOT be here for the time of tribulation. And if you are not saved, you can make that decision right now, and know that you too will be spared the devastation that is coming.

There are many conflicting views about when exactly the rapture will take place in relation to the tribulation, the millennial kingdom, and the physical return of Christ, but I believe that the majority of those views are misguided and come from a misinterpretation of Scripture. I believe, based on my own study of God's word in accordance with the teachings of various trusted pastors*, that we can be assured of the general timing of certain prophetic events in relation to one another. The rapture, as it relates to the tribulation, is one of those events.

It is interesting to note that in the book of Revelation, the "church", referring to the body of believers that was begun on the day of Pentecost and continues today, is mentioned 19 times in chapters 2 and 3, which speak of the 7 different churches, both literally at the time of John and figuratively throughout the entire church age. After chapter 3, throughout the chapters that describe the events of the "tribulation" or the time of judgement, the church is never mentioned again. It is reasonable to conclude that the reason for this is simply that the church will not be present for those events. The church is nowhere to be found throughout the remainder of the book of Revelation until chapter 19, in which we see Christ returning to earth, with us following behind him, riding on white horses:
Then I saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. Its rider was named Faithful and True, for he judges fairly and wages a righteous war.... The armies of heaven, dressed in the finest of pure white linen, followed him on white horses. Rev. 19:11,14 NLT
 At the beginning of the book of Revelation, Jesus tells John:
Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this. Rev. 1:19 NKJV
The "things which are" refers to the church age. Therefore, the "things which will take place after this" must take place AFTER the church age has ended. We are currently living in the church age now and have been since the day of Pentecost. The rapture of the church is what will end that part of our history.

Another bit of prophecy, which concerns Israel, also hints at a removal of the church before the time of tribulation. There are several prophecies throughout scripture, including the prophet Isaiah, which speak of both a physical rebirth of the Nation of Israel, something we finally saw happen within the last century, as well as a spiritual rebirth of the nation. We know that this spiritual rebirth is going to happen during the time of tribulation, based in part on the prophecies concerning the 144,000 Jewish witnesses which will continue the work of evangelism on the earth after the church is gone. Take a look at what these verses from the New Testament have to say about God's promise to restore Israel:
I ask, then, has God rejected his own people, the nation of Israel? Of course not! I myself am an Israelite, a descendent of Abraham and a member of the tribe of Benjamin. No, God has not rejected his own people, whom he chose from the very beginning...
And since it is through God's kindness, then it is not by their good works. For in that case, God's grace would not be what it really is --free and undeserved... 
Did God's people stumble and fall beyond recovery? Of course not! They were disobedient, so God made salvation available to the Gentiles. But he wanted his own people to become jealous and claim it for themselves. Now if the Gentiles were enriched because the people of Israel turned down God's offer of salvation, think how much greater a blessing the world will share when they finally accept it...
I want you to understand this mystery, dear brothers and sisters, so that you will not feel proud about yourselves. Some of the people of Israel have hard hearts, but this will last only until the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ. Romans 11:1-2,6,11-12,25 
"...until the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ." This verse tells us that the gentile church will one day be complete and will no longer be here when this promised and prophesied spiritual revival occurs. There will still be gentiles who come to Christ during the tribulation, but the Bible does not refer to these believers as part of the church. They are referred to as "saints", and their future and their role is quite different from that of the pre-tribulation church according to the plans laid out in Revelation. We'll talk more about that later.

Other passages of Scripture that assure us of protection from these events can be found in the second chapter of 2 Thessalonians. Verses 1-12 speak of the deception and destruction that the antichrist will bring. BUT, verses 13-17 speak of the hope that we as believers can cling tightly to. It doesn't offer encouragement or direction on how to stand firm in the midst of these tribulations. It begins with, "As for us..." revealing that we are destined for an entirely different future than the world.

And here is just one last verse, though there are many more which I encourage you to seek out on your own, which offers us this unshakable hope of salvation, redemption and protection. Read and be encouraged!:
And they speak of how you are looking forward to the coming of God's Son from heaven --Jesus, whom God raised from the dead. He is the one who has rescued us from the terrors of the coming judgment. 1 Thess. 1:10
*Much of the information gathered for this post and the posts to come concerning the prophecies about the last days, I have gleaned from the teachings of Pastor J. Mark Martin of Calvary Community Church in Phoenix. He has very extensive teaching materials available on his website, which I strongly encourage anyone who is hungry to learn more to investigate on their own. There is such a vast wealth of information concerning these prophecies and I will only be giving a brief overview of the key points. The entire teaching series on the book of Revelation can be found by searching their media library for message numbers RE301 through RE355. All messages are available for download or for online listening. 

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