Dark Clouds On the Horizon
This past presidential election cycle awakened fears in the hearts of many Americans that might otherwise have lain dormant had there been a candidate who rose above the lesser of two evils criterion.
Christians across America sense that time is running out. Like a train speeding toward a canyon not knowing its bridge is out, our nation has failed to slow its moral decline or alter its course by taking a different track. On the contrary, we seem to be accelerating as we approach the abyss.
Couple this awareness of our own nation’s condition with the realization that the rest of the world isn’t faring any better, and it’s no wonder that a Barna poll taken in 2013 reported that 41% of all adults in America and 77% of evangelical Christians believe the biblical end times have arrived. Given the events of the past three years – increased terrorism, wars and a refugee crisis – even more people must wonder how close we are to the last days.
While some people, because of the results of Tuesday’s election, feel a measure of relief and hope that our nation’s headlong rush to disaster might be slowed or even reversed because the democratic candidate lost, others don’t. A sober analysis recognizes we are in the same state of moral decay as we were before the election. Even if our nation becomes great again by worldly standards, it will be to no avail if American Christians practice a powerless, ineffective and lukewarm Christianity that depends on political saviors.
We remain on the brink of disaster. And so does the world.
Do We Really Need to Understand Prophecy?
Considering the millions of copies the Left Behind series of books sold, one might conclude there is widespread interest in the study of the end times (eschatology), particularly by those who believe Jesus will return to take the Church to heaven before a seven-year tribulation period begins on earth. Though many denominations do not teach a pre-tribulation rapture, it is likely that more than a few Christians in those denominations adhere to the teaching simply because it is so ubiquitous. Millions of Christians attend churches that do teach a pre-tribulation rapture. Thus, a significant number of people are anticipating future events to play out in a scenario similar to those found in the book series.
But what if events don’t go according to the script of these books?
In other words, does eschatology matter? If we are indeed close to the return of Jesus, does it matter which millennial view we hold or if we believe in a pre-tribulation rapture?
Evangelical, Bible believing Christians share important, core beliefs about the end times. Christ’s visible, public return to earth, the bodily resurrection of all humanity, and the judgment of the living of the dead resulting in eternal life for some and eternal destruction for the rest are not the beliefs that distinguish those who believe in a pre-tribulation rapture from those who don’t.
Furthermore, Christians can love, trust, serve and obey God without agreeing on the timing of the rapture or how to interpret Revelation 20.
Yet, I can’t imagine that God doesn’t want us to get his prophetic message right, especially as events unfold. If a prophetic passage is a call to prepare, shouldn’t we know what to prepare for, whether deliverance from or perseverance through tribulation? If prophecy serves as a warning shouldn’t we assume the warning is for us unless proven otherwise? Certainly Jesus didn’t intend his warnings in Matthew 24 to go unheeded. If prophecy is a call to repentance, shouldn’t we know what to repent of?
Finally, since prophecy, like the rest of Scripture, reveals God’s glory we should understand it as best we can.
To make sense out of the various views about the end times and particularly the doctrine of the rapture of the church, a number of pertinent questions should be addressed:
- Are Israel and the Church distinct and separate peoples of God with different destinies? If this is the case, then a pre-tribulation rapture is a necessity because the church must be removed prior to the 2nd Advent in order for the Jewish age to be completed. (I have already made a case against this idea here, here and here).
- Is suffering and persecution normative for the Christian and, if so, is the notion that God would remove his saints from a period of intensified persecution in the tribulation consistent with how he has treated his elect throughout history?
- Is the great tribulation limited to a seven-year period just prior to Jesus’ return to earth? To so restrict the time frame of the great tribulation allows for the possibility that the Church can escape it. However, if the tribulation occurs throughout the church age (as believed by amillenialists) or if it encompasses the period from 70 AD until the return of Christ, (as indicated by Matthew 24 and Luke 21) then, by definition, the church cannot escape the worst persecution in history even though it escapes God’s wrath.
- Does the Bible teach a literal thousand-year reign of Christ on earth known as the millennium? This is significant, because various interpretations of the end times hinge on this question.
- Is Revelation best interpreted by assuming the book’s major emphasis is on the final victory of God over evil or by assuming its primary function was to address first century persecution of Christians under Rome or does the book mainly teach timeless principles about how God acts in the world? These and other approaches to interpreting the book of Revelation lead to quite different conclusions. Perhaps the best interpretation of Revelation incorporates all of these approaches when applicable.
Because proponents of the pre-tribulation rapture position have done a better job of promoting their view of the end times, it may seem to those who believe in a pre-tribulation rapture that it is overwhelmingly the majority opinion among Christians. They therefore hesitate to entertain the possibility that alternative viewpoints are correct.
This series of blogs challenges the pre-tribulation rapture view. I haven’t engaged in a serious study of prophecy for decades, but now seems like the right time to turn to the pages of prophecy for instruction concerning the Blessed Hope.