Tag Archives: End Times

The Truth About the Rapture

In many Christian circles, the teaching of the rapture is taken for granted. We hear it taught on Christian radio, and perhaps we’ve read books about it. Most evangelicals know about the rapture, assume it’s in scripture, and then go on their merry way.

When I was in high school, I read the entire Left Behind series. I didn’t think twice about whether it was scriptural or not.

There’s one problem. It’s actually not in scripture. It is a recent theological invention from the 19th century that has unfortunately gained quite a bit of popularity.

At the core, this teaching is spiritually dangerous. It tells Christians they won’t go through tribulation since God will intervene and remove them from it in the last days. Jesus, on the other hand, was very clear that those who persevere through suffering will be saved. (Mt. 24:13; Rev. 2:10) We are saved through suffering, not from suffering. There is a difference.

Corrie Ten Boom, the famous evangelist and all-around godly woman, wrote the following regarding the teaching of the rapture:

There are some among us teaching there will be no tribulation, that the Christians will be able to escape all this. These are the false teachers that Jesus was warning us to expect in the latter days. Most of them have little knowledge of what is already going on across the world. I have been in countries where the saints are already suffering terrible persecution.

In China, the Christians were told, “Don’t worry, before the tribulation comes you will be translated – raptured.” Then came a terrible persecution. Millions of Christians were tortured to death. Later I heard a Bishop from China say, sadly,

“We have failed.
We should have made the people strong for persecution,
rather than telling them Jesus would come first.
Tell the people how to be strong in times of persecution,
how to stand when the tribulation comes,
– to stand and not faint.”

I feel I have a divine mandate to go and tell the people of this world that it is possible to be strong in the Lord Jesus Christ. We are in training for the tribulation, but more than sixty percent of the Body of Christ across the world has already entered into the tribulation. There is no way to escape it.
We are next.

These words are extremely timely. The Lord knows the future. I do not. But we must be prepared to stand strong in the Lord and be willing to suffer for Jesus should we be worthy.

The following clips do a good job of debunking this misinformed teaching. The first video covers the scriptures commonly cited in support of the rapture and explains their true meaning. The second video, “Where Did the Rapture Come From?,” quickly uncovers how this teaching is a recent development associated with Dispensationalism, which was never before taught in churches historically.

 

The Seal on the Servants of God

Most have heard of the “mark of the beast” that is mentioned several times in Revelations. It’s captured the imagination of many Christians, especially of those holding a dispensational, premillennial interpretation of the end times. We’ve all read various speculations regarding forced chip implants, tattoos, and the like as possibly being the “mark of the beast.”

Of course, in all of this, people tend to forget the big picture. The beast, however we interpret it, is clearly in cohorts with Satan, working tirelessly to destroy the people of God. Those who have the beast’s mark on their hand and their forehead are those who have declared allegiance with God’s enemies, or are the very least not opposing their work.

However, in all of the speculation regarding the mark of the beast, what you don’t hear discussed is the mark of the righteous, the seal of God’s servants which John also writes about.

This is quite curious, since the Apostle John uses the same kind of language to describe this seal as he does with the ungodly mark. Perhaps its clear symbolic nature doesn’t lend itself to the same kind of frenzied speculation and excitement, despite being just as (if not more) prominent in scripture. We should take notice though, because just like the mark of the beast, the seal of the righteous is placed on the forehead of the saints. Those marked unbelievers who align themselves with the work of Satan act as a clear foil for those believers who are designated as belonging to and set apart for God.

This seal on the forehead of the servants of God is first mentioned in Revelations 7:3, after the first six seals are opened.

And I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, having the seal of the living God; and he cried out with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads.” (Revelations 7:2-3)

A couple chapters later, in Revelations 9:4, the fifth trumpet sounds and the locust-like creatures ascend out of the abyss.  They are commissioned not to harm vegetation, as one would expect, but rather to torment humanity. Not just anyone, but specifically only those who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.

Then out of the smoke came locusts upon the earth, and power was given them, as the scorpions of the earth have power. They were told not to hurt the grass of the earth, nor any green thing, nor any tree, but only the men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. And they were not permitted to kill anyone, but to torment for five months; and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings a man. And in those days men will seek death and will not find it; they will long to die, and death flees from them. (Revelations 9:3-6)

Just as we saw in Revelations 7, God has specifically sealed or marked the true servants of God. This is clearly not some physical, visible mark, but a spiritual designation by God. This spiritual seal indicates that they are God’s own possession, and as a consequence, they are spared here from the plague of demonic locusts, just as the Israelites were spared from the plagues God sent upon the Egyptians.

This does not mean the Christians do not or will not go through any tribulations. John is clear that many believers are killed for their faith in Jesus. (Rev. 20:4) We read the martyrs cry out to God day and night for justice to be served on earth. (Rev. 6:10) Yet, the seal of God clearly signifies that God knows all who are His. He is in complete control even in chaos, and will not allow anything to come upon His chosen people unless He has permitted it in His divine wisdom.

Ultimately, all those who have aligned themselves with Satan, having received the mark of the beast, are thrown into the lake of fire, but the servants of God enter into God’s eternal kingdom. They enter into His eternal reign on a renewed and glorified creation, where the curses of sin have been defeated, and the saints enjoy eternal fellowship with God. In this perfect world, where only the righteous dwell, we again see the seal—the mark of the holy believers—adorning the servants of God.

There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever. (Revelations 22:3-5)

While the mark of the beast is forced upon the world indiscriminately, the seal of the righteous is only given by God to those who serve Him wholeheartedly—those who love Him and trust Him with all that they have and are. It is on the foreheads of these holy servants that the name of God is written, for they are His alone.

Rather than just focusing on the mark to avoid, let’s seek Jesus from whom we receive the seal that will last into eternity.

What Does Jesus Mean? This Generation Will Not Pass Away Until All These Things Take Place

One of the more perplexing verses in the New Testament is found in Matthew 24:34 (and also the direct equivalents in Mark 13:30 and Luke 21:32). After describing a period of terrible tribulation (Matthew 24:1-28) and the coming of the Son of Man (Matthew 24:29-31), Jesus says, “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”

Since Jesus just talked about His return before this verse, it would seem that He is saying that the current generation would live to see His coming. Clearly this has not yet occurred and could not have happened in His disciple’s lifetime. Jesus still has not returned almost two thousand years later. What is Jesus saying here? How do we understand it?

What does Jesus mean by “all these things?”
Our understanding of this verse hinges on one question. What does Jesus mean by the phrase “all these things?” We have two options. We can guess, or we can study the surrounding context for clues. Since we want to know what scripture says—and not just what we think—let’s look at the context.

Fortunately, right before this perplexing passage in verse 33, Jesus specifies what “all these things” includes—and just as important—what it does not include.

32 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 33 Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. (Matthew 24:32-33 NIV)

As Jesus says, when “all these things” occur, “it is near.” Some anticipated event will be close at hand, “right at the door.” What this event exactly could be is unclear in Matthew. Some translations read “he is near,” instead of “it is near.” This is an attempt to clarify a passage which I think should be left intentionally ambiguous, to reflect the ambiguity in the Greek grammar.

Jesus could be referring perhaps to His imminent return, the kingdom of heaven (as Luke says), or even the destruction of the temple. The reason why it could mean multiple things is because His disciples themselves asked about multiple events. (24:1-3)

Regardless, “all these things” are signs that we know precede Jesus’ coming (however close in time). “All these things” does not include Jesus’ return itself, which Jesus discusses in Matthew 24:29-31.

Consequently, in verse 34, when Jesus says “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place,” He is not saying that the disciples will be alive at His coming. He only is indicating that they will be around for the events described in verses 4-28, which include the various tribulations, persecutions, and other events.

Did that generation live through the signs Jesus describes?
Now that we understand the meaning of “all these things,” the question shifts. Could this generation Jesus is referring to—the same generation as the disciples—still be alive when these terrible signs come upon the earth?

They absolutely could be.

Jesus warned of false Christs, wars, famines, earthquakes, persecution of His followers, and so on. All of this happened prior to Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 AD. According to Josephus, there were deceitful men during this time who gathered large followings around them before their insurrections were put down by the Romans. (War of Jews, Book XX, Chapter VIII, Section 6) We know from Acts and Paul’s letters that Judea went through a severe famine. (Acts 11:28) Violent persecution of Christians was initiated by the Jews in Jerusalem and by the Romans under Nero’s leadership. The city of Laodicea, mentioned by John in Revelations, was destroyed by a large earthquake in 60 AD (and was quickly rebuilt thanks to their great wealth). Even the abomination of desolation, which we often only think of as a future event, is associated by Luke with the Roman armies that would desecrate and destroy the temple. (Luke 21:20)

So yes, all these signs Jesus describes—”all these things”—happened in the lifetime of that generation.

It is no surprise that Jesus would be referring specifically to the destruction of Jerusalem. After all, He purposefully brought up the subject with His disciples as they were leaving the temple. (Matthew 24:1-2) And as they sat on the Mount of Olives, overlooking the temple compound, the disciples remembered this prophecy and asked Him when this would occur. (24:3) Recognizing that Jesus was speaking about this same event later in verse 34 is not twisting the text to fit our own ideas. It is being a faithful reader of scripture.

Additional Supporting Evidence
And that’s not all folks! Just prior in chapter 23 of Matthew, after rebuking the scribes and Pharisees for killing the prophets, Jesus says that they will be punished for their sins. The way Jesus phrases this warning almost exactly parallels His own statement in Matthew 24:34 that we’ve been discussing.

34 “Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, 35 so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.

37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. 38 Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! (Matthew 23:34-38)

The context for this parallel verse is clear. Jerusalem will experience severe punishment for rejecting God’s messengers and for rejecting Jesus Christ himself. The blood of these holy men would come upon the Jewish religious leaders during their lifetime, a clear reference to the 70 AD destruction. Jerusalem will be left “desolate.” (23:38)

In this parallel passage, “all these things” can only be understood as Jerusalem’s destruction and “this generation” as the generation alive during Jesus’ ministry. This example just reinforces what we’ve already found in our previous analysis.

Summary and Concluding Thoughts
Let’s read the passage in question one last time.

32 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 33 Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. 34 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. (Matthew 24:32-34 NIV)

The proper interpretation is straightforward. Jesus is simply informing His disciples that those currently living would not die until all the signs that lead up to (and that also perhaps include) the destruction of Jerusalem would occur. He is not saying that the disciples will live to see His heavenly return. After all, Jesus goes on to specify that regarding His coming, “of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” (Matthew 24:36)

Please note, many of these signs described in Matthew 24 may have multiple fulfillments. Although they clearly deal with events leading up to 70 AD, they may also apply to “the birth pains” prior to His return. However, despite whatever alternate prophetic applications may exist, this does not nullify the clear short-term fulfillment we can historically observe. That generation went through the signs Jesus described, even if those events many have future significance as well.

This is a difficult passage, one many disagree on. I hope this brief explanation has shed some light on what Jesus meant here. There is depth in these verses that is impossible to touch on in one post, so feel free to comment below or send an email if you have further questions.

Unless Found Perfect: A Parallel Passage in the Didache and Epistle of Barnabas

There is a strong parallel phrase between the Didache (50-70 AD) and the Epistle of Barnabas (90-131 AD), two very early Christian writings found in the modern collection known as the Apostolic Fathers.

In anticipation of the last days and the return of Jesus, the Didache emphasizes the necessity of being found perfect or complete in the last days, otherwise our past faith will “be of no use.”

Watch over your life: do not let your lamps go out, and do not be unprepared, but be ready, for you do not know the hour when our Lord is coming. Gather together frequently, seeking the things that benefit your souls, for all the time you have believed will be of no use to you if you are not found perfect in the last time. (Didache 16. 1,2; Holmes, 3rd Ed.)

In the 1912 Loeb edition, Kirsopp Lake translates the last passage as, “for the whole time of your faith shall not profit you except ye be found perfect at the last time.”

Similar language is used in the Epistle of Barnabas when talking of the last days:

Consequently, let us be on guard in the last days, for the whole time of our faith will do us no good unless now, in the age of lawlessness, we also resist, as befits God’s children, the coming stumbling blocks, lest the black one find an opportunity to sneak in. (Barnabas 4. 9b; Holmes, 3rd Ed.)

Both are directly speaking of the importance of continued spiritual soberness in the last days.  The Greek has almost identical wording in both passages where it says “for the whole time of your/our faith will do you/us no good unless [now] in the last/lawless time […].”

Didache:    οὐ       γὰρ ὠφελήσει ὑμᾶς ὁ πᾶς χρόνος τῆς πίστεως ὑμῶν, ἐὰν μὴ        ἐν τῷ ἐσχάτῳ καιρῷ […]
Barnabas: οὐδὲν γὰρ ὠφελήσει ἡμᾶς ὁ πᾶς χρόνος τῆς πίστεως ἡμῶν, ἐὰν μὴ νῦν ἐν τῷ ἀνόμῳ καιρῷ […]

There is no doubt that there either was a common source that both quoted from, or Barnabas borrowed here from the Didache. Regardless, the teaching that we need to be found faithful at the end was a common teaching present among the earliest believers. The eternal state of a Christian was not strictly viewed only as a simple profession of past faith, but in terms of continued faithfulness and endurance up until the end of our life.

Eventually I may take the time and effort to complete a comprehensive survey of this teaching in the earliest non-canonical Christian writings, but until then this is just one morsel of early Christian thought to chew on.