Signs of the Times – Thoughts on the End Times, Part 7

Part 7: More On Why I Believe the Preterist View Is Wrong

This post is a continuation of Part 6 and will not make sense without reading Part 6 first.  To read Part 6, click here: http://morgantrotter.wordpress.com/2014/07/29/signs-of-the-times-thoughts-on-the-end-times-part-6/

To read Parts 1-6, click here: http://morgantrotter.wordpress.com/

Jerusalem_Siege_by_Romans_70_AD_1Against the preterist view I would also contend that the events of the first century don’t match the intensity of the events described in Matthew 24: 4-25.  These verses sound like they’re describing world events, not just events in first-century Palestine.  Consider:

6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains.

9 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. – Matthew 24:6-9

There will be wars between various nations and kingdoms. It sounds like widespread warfare, not just something localized in one region. Natural disasters will occur “in various places” not just in one locality. Believers will be “hated by all nations.”  That sounds like something on a global scale, not just in the middle east. Likewise, the “gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matt 24:14).

Now, it is true that the Greek word translated “world” there is “oikoumene” which was understood as the known world or the Roman empire.  Yet it could also be translated “globe.”  At any rate, what was in view was the entire known world, which is supported by the fact that this was going to bring a “testimony to all nations” or ethnicities (the Greek word there is actually “ethne” from which we get our English word “ethnic”),  Once again, this was not a local or regional thing, but meant that the gospel was going to be preached throughout the world to every ethnicity.  The fact that they didn’t know as much of the world back then as we do now in no way prevents this prophecy from being applied to the entire world as we know it today, for that seems to be the idea Jesus was conveying.

Now, the references to the temple and to Judea in verses 15-20 do clearly refer to Palestine.  Yet even here we have language that seems bigger than can adequately be explained by the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD.  Consider these words:

21 For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now — and never to be equaled again. 22 If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened (Matt 24:21-22).

This puts the events being described on the level of intensity of the most traumatic events the world has ever experienced–a time of “great tribulation” as the older translations express it–so bad that if it isn’t shortened, even God’s own chosen people would be deceived (see verse 24) and would not survive.

Now, I have no doubt the events of 67-70 AD in Palestine were incredibly traumatic. But to say they are the worst the world has ever experienced, as verse 21 seems to imply about the times being described in the passage–well that would be hyperbole.  A brief examination of the world wars of the 20th century alone would show that.  In fact, my preterist friend explained the language in just that way–as hyperbole.  But as with verses 29-31, I think it makes more sense to take them at face value (see Part 6).  And if we do so, then the events surrounding the fall of Jerusalem simply aren’t adequate to match the intensity described in verses 21-22.

We should also consider that Matthew 24 is a response to an initial dialogue between Jesus and the disciples recorded in verses 1-3:

1 Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. 2 “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.”

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?”

Notice the disciples’ question in verse 3 has several parts:

  1. “When will this happen”…?–referring of course to Jesus’ statement that “not one stone [of the temple] will be left on another; every one will be thrown down” (verse 1).
  2. “…and what will be the sign of your coming…”
  3. “…and of the end of the age?” (emphasis added).

Now preterists presume that all three parts of this question necessarily assume the same event–i.e., the destruction of the temple Jesus referred to in verse 1.  They assume that because the question is all in one sentence, the destruction of the temple, Jesus’ “coming,” and the “end of the age” must all occur at the same time.  Indeed, it may be that in the disciples’ mind as they asked the question, they understood them all to refer to the same event.  But even if the disciples assumed it would all be the same event that doesn’t require that Jesus’ answer is based on the same assumptions. Consider a similar question the disciples asked Jesus just prior to his ascension:

6 So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:6-8).

Here’s an example in which the disciples clearly had one thing in mind with their question, but Jesus’ answer went in a different direction.  The disciples were asking about a temporal kingdom.  “Now that you’ve conquered death and proven you are unstoppable, are you now going to expel the Romans, take back the throne of Israel, and restore the Davidic kingdom?”  Jesus’ answer was indirect.  It was a “no” by implication, but he really didn’t answer the question of when.

Even after his ascension Jesus’ disciples expected him to return bodily in their lifetime and set up His earthly kingdom, a kingdom in which Israel would rule over the rest of the world.  Jesus’ answer went beyond their ability to understand based on their mindset at the time.

It was the same with the disciples’ question in Matthew 24.  “Tell us when you’re going to come in power, destroy the current order (including the temple), and set up a new order?”  In the disciples’ mind these events surely signified the “end of the age” (verse 3).  Preterists see this reference to the end of the age as referring to the end of the Old Testament era of law and animal sacrifice.  The temple was the premier symbol and institution of that age, and its destruction represented the final, irrevocable end of that age.

The problem with interpreting the phrase “the end of the age” in this way, however, is that in every other instance in which the phrase is used in the New Testament (all of which are in Matthew), it clearly refers not to the end of the Old Covenant era, but to the end of the world as we know it.  Consider these other Scripture references as examples:

Matt 13:36-43 ~

His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”

37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.

40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.

Matt 13:47-50 ~

47 “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. 49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50 and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Matt 28:18-20 ~

18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (emphasis added)

So it seems pretty clear that when the phrase “end of the age” appears in Matthew (and the New Testament) it refers to the end of this present world.  And this is surely how the disciples meant the phrase when they asked Jesus about it in Matthew 24:3.  Moreover, the events Jesus describes in verses 29-31 most readily coincide with an understanding of “the end of the age” in eschatological terms; that is, in terms of the end times and the end of the present world.

Now, the obvious problem futurists like myself have to deal with is the verse the preterists see as the lynch pin, quoted above: Matthew 24:34 “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.”  If the events of Matthew 24 were not fulfilled in the first century, then how do we explain verse 34?  Was Jesus mistaken, as some liberal scholars suggest?

Futurists have offered various explanations over the years. One such explanation calls attention to Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:36 “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” This explanation says ‘well, Jesus himself said he didn’t know when his return would be.’  But that isn’t really a helpful answer because Jesus’ words in verse 34 are very emphatic.  The statement begins with “I tell you the truth, ” which implies that Jesus is saying something he knows/firmly believes to be true.  If Jesus truly is the divine Son of God then he doesn’t get a pass for being “wrong” about one of his prophecies.  If Jesus said he knew something to be true, then for the believer it is as true as any of his other statements.  A better interpretation is that Jesus was saying these events would happen before “this generation” passes away; but then in verse 36 he admits he doesn’t know the exact time it will happen (“the day or the hour”).  So we are still left with our conundrum.

One way scholars have explained this problem is by asking what is meant by “this generation” in verse 34.  The phrase in the Greek is “haute genea.”  Some very reputable scholars interpret this phrase as referring not merely to the generation of people who lived in Jesus’ time, but instead to the Jewish nation–meaning not Israel but “all the generations of Judaism that reject” Jesus (Eduard Schweizer, as quoted by Dr. Leon Morris in The Gospel According to Matthew, Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids, 1992, p. 612).

The Greek word “genea” can also be understood to mean an “age” or period of time.  So Jesus could be referring to an unspecified period of time rather than to a single generation, perhaps similar to the present “age” which his disciples referred to at the beginning of the passage in verse 3.  And indeed, in light of Jesus’ reference to heaven and earth passing away in the very next verse (verse 35), this interpretation would make a lot of sense.

Dr. Leon Morris also points out that in other instances the term “generation” is used more broadly to refer not to a group of people in a certain time frame, but instead to a particular category of people, such as “the generation of the upright” in Psalms 14:5 and 112:2, or “the generation of those who seek” the Lord in Psalm 24:6.  There is also the “generation of his wrath” as in Jeremiah 7:29 and Psalm 12:7.  So Jesus could be saying more generally that “the generation” of people who reject him (i.e., throughout history) will not pass away “until all these things have happened.”

Finally, the word “genea” can also be translated simply “race,” so that Jesus might be saying “this race” (possibly the human race? but more likely the Jewish race, or maybe even the “race” of people who reject him, where “race” is used figuratively) will not pass away till all these things have taken place.

To conclude, the points I’ve made here and in Part 6 are all the reasons why I believe Matthew 24 and Revelation talks about future events, and not events in the first century.

What do you think about the preterist view?  What do you think about the various futurist views of these passages?

If you find this post valuable, please share it with your friends on your social networks using the “Share” buttons below.  And please be sure to check out Parts 1-6 of this series if you haven’t already done so!

Signs of the Times – Thoughts on the End Times, Part 6

Part 6 – Has Matthew 24 Already Been Fulfilled? A Response to the Preterist View

Click here for Parts 1-5 –  http://morgantrotter.wordpress.com/

2ndcoming2When I was growing up in the 1970s and ’80s, although I heard different views of the end times expressed, they all fell under what would be broadly considered a “futurist” view.  That is, the interpretations given to various eschatological passages of Scripture, whether pre-millennial or post-millennial, whether “pre-trib” or “post trib,” all agreed on one thing: those passages (such as Matthew 24 and the book of Revelation) dealt with events which are still in the future and haven’t happened yet.

Nowadays, however, a different viewpoint is gaining popularity called the “preterist” view.  This view says the events described in Matthew 24 and its parallel passages in Mark and Luke, as well as in the book of Revelation, have already been fulfilled.  The full preterist view says they’ve all been fulfilled.  Most Christians I know who follow the preterist viewpoint, though, consider themselves “partial preterists,” meaning that while they believe much of Matthew 24 and Revelation have been fulfilled, they don’t believe it’s all been fulfilled, and they do believe Christ will come again at the end of the world as we know it.  Full preterists don’t believe in the second coming at all, and so the full preterist view is generally considered heretical.

So why do partial preterists believe these Scriptures have already been fulfilled?  At several points in his ministry Jesus predicted that judgment would come on the Jews of his day because they rejected him.  One such passage is where Jesus tells the parable of the vineyard:

27 They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him. 28 “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you authority to do this?”

29 Jesus replied, “I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 30 John’s baptism — was it from heaven, or from men? Tell me!”

31 They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 32 But if we say, ‘From men’ . . . .” (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.)

33 So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”

Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

12:1 He then began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. 2 At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. 3 But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 4 Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. 5 He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed.

6 “He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’

7 “But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 8 So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.

9 “What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others. 10 Haven’t you read this scripture:

“‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; 11 the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”

12 Then they looked for a way to arrest him because they knew he had spoken the parable against them. - Mark 11:27-12:12

Another passage that’s even more direct is Luke 19:41-44

41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace — but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

And of course there are these words from Matthew 24:

1 Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. 2 “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.” (verses 1-2).

Jesus’ prophesied that one day Jerusalem and the Jewish temple itself would be besieged because the Jews of his day rejected him.  Jesus said this would be God’s judgment on the rebellious city and on God’s rebel people.

Jesus’ words came true.  In 67 AD the Romans came and laid siege to Jerusalem, and in 70 the city fell to the Romans and the temple was destroyed.

Quite simply, preterists believe that Matthew 24, 2 Thessalonians 2 (another passage we’ve looked at in this series – see Parts 1, 2, & 4), and the Book of Revelation all dealt primarily with these events in the first century related to the siege and fall of Jerusalem and the Jewish temple in 67-70 AD.  For this reason preterists believe these Scripture passages have been largely fulfilled, except for the small portions they see as referring to future events.

As I see it, the preterist interpretation of Matthew 24 (and much of the rest of the material in question) hinges on a single all-important verse: Matt 24:34 “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.”  Preterists reason that because Jesus seemed to say that his own generation would not pass away before the events described in Matthew 24 took place, therefore Matthew 24 must be about events in the first century.

Preterists contend that the events described in Matthew 24 fit historically with the sack of Jerusalem in 67-70 AD.  As a friend of mine who is a partial preterist said, preterists feel that futurists don’t take Matthew 24 literally enough.  If they did, he says, they would realize it pertains to the events of 67-70 AD.  And indeed, the events predicted in verses 4-25 do fit at least somewhat with the actual historical events that took place prior to 70 AD in Jerusalem.

However, in my view, the problem with the preterist interpretation is that portions of Matthew 24:4-31 have never been fulfilled.  In particular, if verses 29-31 are taken literally, they clearly describe events which weren’t fulfilled in the first century:

29 “Immediately after the distress of those days

“‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’

30 “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. 31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.

These verses, understood literally, appear to be describing the literal, visible return of Christ in the heavens at the end of the age.  As if to remove any doubt about this, Jesus says just before that

26 “So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the desert,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. - Matthew 24:26-27 (emphasis added)

Christ’s appearance in the heavens will be visible to all.  Nothing of that nature occurred in the first century.  In fact, if it had, it’s hard to imagine that it would not be recorded in the New Testament, since some portions of the New Testament were written after 70 AD.

In fact, there is some disagreement among scholars as to when books like Matthew and Revelation were written. Traditionally Revelation has been dated as one of the latest writings of the New Testament, often being assigned a date of composition around 90 AD.  Likewise, some scholars date the book of Matthew to some time in the 70s AD.  If Revelation and Matthew were written or completed after 70 AD, and if Jesus had returned at that time, one would think there would be some record of this in either or both of these books, or in any part of the New Testament that was completed after 70 AD.  And yet we find no such record in anywhere in the New Testament.

Likewise, if these books were written after 70 AD and their authors believed the events described in Revelation and Matthew 24 had already been fulfilled it seems very likely those authors would’ve expressed that belief.  The absence of such interpretations in the books themselves means either the books were both written prior to 70 AD (which seems questionable in the case of Revelation), or else the authors did not see the events they describe as having already been fulfilled at the time the books were written.

However, some scholars do date Revelation and Matthew prior to 70 AD.  In the case of Revelation in particular, this earlier dating seems to be driven at least somewhat by preterist concerns. Moreover, many preterists interpret much of Revelation as having been fulfilled during the reign of the Roman emperor Nero, which ended in 68 AD.  However, the early church fathers (who were much closer to the events than us) almost all dated John’s exile on Patmos to the reign of the Roman emperor Domitian (81-96 AD), which is a big reason Revelation is usually given the later date.

So it seems very unlikely that Matthew 24:29-31 was literally fulfilled in the first century, especially since there is no record of Christ visibly returning in the heavens in the first century.  (Not to mention the fact that if Christ had returned in the first century, would we even be here 20 centuries later, having this discussion? But I digress.)

Preterists explain this problem by interpreting Matthew 24:29-31 symbolically.  They claim that when Jesus spoke of his “coming” in verses 3 and 30-31 he meant a spiritual return only.  They say it refers to Christ “coming” in judgement when the Romans destroyed the Jerusalem and the Jewish temple in 70 AD.

Preterists claim there is precedent in the Old Testament for interpreting such passages symbolically, citing passages like Isaiah 13:9-13, Isaiah 24, Isaiah 34:4, Joel 2:10, and Daniel 7:13 as examples in which similar imagery was used and which (they claim) was never intended to be taken literally, but instead was meant to be viewed figuratively.

However, I myself believe all those verses from the Old Testament also look forward to literal events–maybe even the very same events described in Matthew 24.  I’m leery of interpreting such passages merely figuratively, for it makes one wonder if the passages are being interpreted symbolically simply because they sound too fantastic to be believed by modern minds.  I’m inclined to believe this motif is recurring in Scripture because it refers to something that actually is going to happen one day, and that the prophets kept catching glimpses of it in their visions of the future.

This concludes today’s post.  My next post will continue looking at the problems with the preterist view of the end times, and will pick up where today’s post leaves off.  Please be sure to tune in next time!!

If you found this post valuable, please share it with your friends on Facebook and your other social networks using the “Share” buttons below.  And please also be sure to check out the other posts in this series!

Signs of the Times – Thoughts on the End Times, Part 5

Part 5: Why Some Believe the Earth Will Be
Renewed Instead of Destroyed

Click these links for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

(Happy thoughts, these, about the world being destroyed, eh?  O:-) )

In my last post I gave Scriptural reasons why I believe the Bible teaches that this world as we know it will eventually end and be replaced by a new heaven and a new earth (for my previous post, click on “Part 4” above).

Today I want to examine two alternative points of view to the one I proposed in my last post, not so much to refute them, as to share them and acknowledge that these other views could have some validity.  However, I will go on to point out some of the problems with these views and how I feel from a biblical standpoint the burden of proof is on those who hold them to demonstrate why they are viable possibilities.

Literal Or Symbolic?

In my last post I shared a number of Scripture texts which, if taken literally, I believe show conclusively that the Bible foretells the eventual end of our world.  I won’t repeat all these passages here, but will just share a couple of them, as examples.  (For those who read the last post, I know this is a bit of repetition, but please bear with me, for I’m going somewhere with this.)

Matt 24:29-31

29 “Immediately after the distress of those days

“‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’

30 “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. 31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.

2 Peter 3:3-13

3 First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” 5 But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6 By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7 By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.

8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.

11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.

Notice the qualifier I gave above: I said, if these passages are taken literally, I believe they show conclusively that the Bible foretells the end of the world.  And there’s the rub.  For there are some Bible interpreters–perhaps many–who believe these passages should be understood symbolically rather than literally.

As far as I can understand it, the reasoning for this point of view goes that this imagery of the world ending in the New Testament is also found in the Old Testament.  Those who hold this view claim that the Old Testament passages about the world ending were never intended to be taken literally but instead refer to the collapse of earthly kingdoms.

For example, some who hold to this view believe Matthew 24 was largely fulfilled when the Roman empire besieged Jerusalem in 67 AD and destroyed the temple in 70 AD.  They interpret Matthew 24:29 as symbolic of the fall of Jerusalem rather than as intended to be a literal collapse of the heavenly bodies.  (I will address the view that Matthew 24 has already been fulfilled in a coming post.)

Those who interpret Matthew 24 in this way believe the passage from 2 Peter 3 should be understood symbolically as well.  They believe it refers to the fall of earthly powers, rather than the literal destruction of heaven and earth.

One of the things I learned in seminary was that often when people interpret the Bible, they find in the Bible what they started out expecting to see when they began.  For example, those who don’t believe in miracles usually approach the text with a bias against the miraculous.  Since they don’t believe in miracles, they conclude that anything in the Bible which claims to be miraculous needs to be explained another way, since they’ve already made up their mind that miracles are impossible.

Likewise, those who can’t abide the Bible’s prohibitions against homosexual activity look at the passages which speak against homosexuality and search for any reasons they can find to render those passages null and void.  If they can’t find a legitimate reason to do so, then they manufacture reasons, which is essentially what the pro-gay factions have done.  But I digress.

These are just a couple examples of how, if we’re not careful, what we want to find, or expect to find, in the Bible can dictate what we allow ourselves to see or accept in the text.

When we read the passages in the Bible that describe the end of the physical world as we know it, we have an interpretive decision to make: Will we accept what we find there at face value, or will we look for another way to interpret them?  My belief is the burden of proof is on those who choose not to interpret these passages literally.  Why shouldn’t we take them literally?  Whatever the answer is, it shouldn’t be because the idea of the world ending is distasteful or unlikely.  Neither of these considerations has any actual bearing on the truthfulness of the prediction.

Basically those who interpret these passages symbolically begin with an assumption that they are symbolic.  They assume the Old Testament passages were symbolic, and then move to the conclusion that therefore the New Testament passages are symbolic as well.  But it is equally likely (and I would say more so) that the Old Testament passages are describing a literal event which hasn’t happened yet.  There are quite a few Old Testament prophecies which remain unfulfilled, and these passages are among them.  I believe the simplest answer is that the Old Testament passages are describing the same events described in the New Testament, all of which still waits to be fulfilled.

The Restoration of All Things

There are a couple of New Testament passages which deal with future things, though, which I haven’t addressed yet, and these deserve to be mentioned.  The passages I have in mind would seem, at least on casual consideration, to contradict the ones I’ve already mentioned that talk about the end of the world.

The first of these is found in Acts 3:17-22

17 “Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. 18 But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer. 19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, 20 and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you — even Jesus. 21 He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets” (emphasis added).

The second passage is Romans 8:18-25

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently (emphasis added).

Based on these passages there are some who believe that rather than the world ending, our present world will be restored and renewed, that it will become the “new earth.”  In particular this belief is becoming more prominent in charismatic circles, for whom the Romans passages holds special meaning.  (I will explore current charismatic beliefs about the end times in another post.)

I can understand why they see that in these passages.  Acts 3:21 implies that when Christ returns, he will “restore everything.”  Likewise, Romans 8:19-21 says that when the “sons of God” are finally “revealed,” creation “will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”  That certainly sounds like restoration and renewal, rather than destruction.

The language in the Romans passage is end-times language.  It speaks of the sons of God being revealed, the creation finally being liberated from its bondage to decay, “our adoption as sons,” and the “redemption of our bodies.”  This is all eschatological language–that is, the kind of language the Bible uses when it speaks of heaven and the return of Christ.  These are things we expect to happen when Christ appears, when we are in his presence eternally.  So we can safely assume that Romans 8:18-25 is referring to events that will take place at the return of Christ.

So How Do We Reconcile This?

Now, the question is, how do we reconcile these passages which speak of the restoration and renewal of the present creation with those that speak of its destruction?

We can go one of two ways: Either we can assume that Acts and Paul give us the true picture of what will happen, and Matthew and Peter (along with several passages from the Old Testament) need to be harmonized with them in some way; or else we can take the other approach, that Matthew and Peter and the Old Testament passages give us the most accurate picture, and Acts and Romans are to be interpreted in light of these.

If we assume Acts and Paul, with their picture of the restoration and renewal of the present world, show us the true picture of what’s going to happen when Christ returns, then we have to make sense of the all the passages which seem to say clearly that the stars will fall from the sky and the heavens and the earth will be destroyed by fire when Jesus comes back.

Now, in 2 Peter 3 it is clear that the fire of destruction is for the wicked (see verses 7, 9).  The implication is that the righteous will be preserved and taken to the new heaven and the new earth (see verse 13).  The words “destroyed” and “destruction” appear four times in verses 3-13.  However, in verse 6, Peter speaks of the earth having been “destroyed” by the flood of Noah’s day.  We know the world wasn’t literally destroyed at the time of the flood; only humanity and civilization were destroyed, so clearly Peter was using hyperbole.  Therefore it’s possible he is also exaggerating in the rest of the passage when he speaks of the world being destroyed by fire.

It’s clear that the fire of destruction he mentions is intended only for the wicked, and so it is a fire of judgment; the righteous (those who know Christ) will be preserved from it.

So if we follow the restoration theme in Acts 3 and Romans 8, then we would have to interpret 2 Peter 3 as being more of a fire of purification in which the world is purged of evil and sin, but not destroyed.  However, the language in 2 Peter 3:10 pretty clearly speaks of annihilation: we’re told “the heavens will disappear,” “the elements will be destroyed,” and the earth will be “laid bare” (emphasis added).  So if we say the world is simply going to be renewed, then 2 Peter 3:10 has to be taken symbolically and not literally.

Yet Revelation 21:1 speaks of the present heavens and the earth having passed away and being replaced with a new heaven and a new earth.  This, along with multiple passages in the Old Testament (see Part 4 of this series for these) as well as the passages in Matthew 24 and their parallels, and 2 Peter 3, all seem to point to the world ending and being replaced by a new heaven and a new earth.

In that case then we would interpret the language in Acts 3:21 and Romans 8:21-22 about creation being restored as something that will happen through the destruction of the present world and the creation of the new heavens and the new earth.  In other words, it is through the destruction of the present world and the creation of the new heavens and the new earth that God restores everything and sets the creation free from its bondage to decay.

I Wouldn’t Mind Being Wrong

I wouldn’t mind being wrong about the destruction of the present world; though unless it is something that happens in my lifetime, it won’t affect me personally either way.  But I wouldn’t mind being wrong.  I wouldn’t mind it if God chooses to renew and restore the present world rather than remove it.

However, I think those who hold the restoration viewpoint are faced with some questions that must be answered.  The current world is fallen, under sin, and–as Romans 8:21 says–in bondage to decay.  If the world is going to be restored, how does the process of deterioration get reversed?  How does this present world in which death and decay are an everyday reality get transformed into an eternal paradise where there is no longer any decay and the righteous live forever?

Moreover, the Bible seems to speak of our eternal future with God as a spiritual reality.  Yes, it says one day our bodies will be resurrected, but in 1 Corinthians 15 Paul says our resurrected body will be a “spiritual” body (see 1 Corinthians 15:44 and the following verses).  Revelation 21-22 describes the new Jerusalem in physical terms, but if we’re going to have spiritual bodies, then the reality John describes in Revelation 21-22 may well be a spiritual reality as well (though a substantial one), just described in physical terms.  If that’s the case, how does our present material world get transformed into the kind of spiritual reality that will be the New Jerusalem?

If the present creation is transformed and “liberated from its bondage to decay” (Romans 8:21) then Romans 8 makes it pretty clear this only happens at the return of Christ, and not before.  Yet there are some who seem to believe that this transformation will be brought about by Christians before Christ returns, or even in order that Christ may return.  However, I don’t think that is what we see in Romans 8 (we’ll look at that view, and the problems with it, in a future post).

Whether the present earth is restored or destroyed and replaced with a new earth, either way the most important part of the message is that those who don’t know and follow Jesus Christ will experience the wrath of God, while those who know Christ will be saved from His wrath.  God Himself has provided an escape from the judgment that is coming on the world because of its sin and evil.  That way of escape is by receiving His Son Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, and trusting in him for forgiveness, salvation, and life.  If you have never trusted in Christ as your Lord and Savior, I implore you to do so, for the Bible is clear that all who do not turn to Christ will not spend eternity with Him.

Thank you for reading my blog!  If you find these posts meaningful, please share them via the Share buttons below, or feel free to click “Like” or post a comment.

Up next: A response to the idea that Matthew 24 and its parallel passages in Mark and Luke have already been fulfilled.  Stay tuned!

Signs of the Times – Thoughts on the End Times, Part 4

Part 4 – Will the World End or Be Renewed?

Click on the following links for Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

end-of-the-worldAnother question that comes up when we consider the end times is: Will the world as we know it end, or will it be renewed?  Those who are my age or older will remember the days of the Cold War, when the fear and realization that the world could end due to nuclear warfare seemed pretty widespread.  Since the fall of the USSR and communism in Eastern Europe, though, fears of nuclear annihilation have mostly subsided, the attempts of North Korea and Iran to develop nuclear weapons not withstanding.

Along with this a new optimism seems to have arisen about the longevity of our world.  Christian books published in recent years teach that the old pessimism about the world ending is misguided and that we can expect our earth to be here for, well…eternity…or at least a very long time.  A few examples are The Sacred Romance and The Journey of Desire (now simply Desire) by John Eldredge and Heaven by Randy Alcorn, all of which teach that God is not going to destroy the world, but instead will renew and restore it.

The question, though, is: What does the Bible say?  None of the books I mentioned really give a biblical rationale for their view, or deal with passages which seem to give a different picture.  This is unfortunate. We can’t just engage in wishful thinking.  We need to investigate God’s Word in order to see what He has to say about this.  In today’s post I will share several passages and then comment on their significance toward the end.

As we’ve said previously, one good place to start is with the words of Jesus himself, who is the very Word of God in flesh.  What did Jesus have to say about this topic?

In Matthew 24:35 Jesus says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (see also Mark 13:31 and Luke 21:33).  We’ve also already looked at a verse just before that, Matthew 24:29, in which Jesus says that  “Immediately after the distress of those days” (that is, after the great tribulation),

“‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.'”

The next verses, Matthew 24:30-31, tell us that

30 “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. 31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.”

So if taken literally verse 29, especially with its language about stars falling from the sky, seems to describe at the very least a cataclysm in the heavens at the time of Jesus’ second coming, which is described in verses 30-31 (for more on these verses, see Parts 1 and 2 of this series, linked above).

Another New Testament passage that seems to speak very clearly on this subject–probably the most clearly of all–is 2 Peter 3:3-13.  I’ve placed the most pertinent verses below in bold type.

3 First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” 5 But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6 By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7 By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.

8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.

11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.

These verses would seem to settle the issue.  Consider the things they say:

  1. The present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and the destruction of the ungodly. This is a fire of judgment (verse 7).
  2. The heavens will disappear with a roar, the elements will be destroyed by fire, so that the earth and everything in it will be laid bare (verse 10).
  3. Everything will be destroyed (verse 11).  The words “destroyed” and “destruction” appear four times in these 11 verses.
  4. The heavens will be destroyed, the elements will melt in the heat, and they will be replaced by a new heaven and a new earth (verses 12-13)

Now, 2 Peter is one of the more obscure books of the Bible.  I would wager that many people have never read it, or even if they have, it may not be the first Bible book that comes to mind when they think of passages they’ve memorized (though 2 Peter 1:3-9 is an awesome passage about our inheritance in Christ–you should learn it if you haven’t already!).

2 Peter may also seem obscure because it was one of the last books to be accepted into the Bible, and there have always been questions, even in the early church, about whether or not it was really written by the apostle Peter.  However, there’s no conclusive evidence Peter wasn’t the author.  Moreover, since the Holy Spirit led the early church to include 2 Peter in the canon of Scripture, we can rest assured it is no less inspired and authoritative than the rest of the Bible.

Nevertheless, perhaps because of 2 Peter’s obscurity, its testimony has not always been taken into account by those considering this topic.  None of the books I mentioned above by John Eldredge and Randy Alcorn even mention these verses or engage the challenges they raise to these authors’ view that the world will not end.  Yet since these verses are part of Scripture, they need to be considered.

Another passage which seems to speak clearly about the question at hand is Revelation 21:1-4 (again with pertinent parts in bold):

21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

The language of a new heaven and a new earth here mirrors one of the statements we read in 2 Peter 3: “But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (verse 13).  So we see a common thread between 2 Peter and Revelation.

These are about the only New Testament passages which talk about the world ending.  However, there are some in the Old Testament, too.  Consider these verses:

Isaiah 13:9-13
9 See, the day of the Lord is coming
— a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger —
to make the land desolate
and destroy the sinners within it.
10 The stars of heaven and their constellations
will not show their light.
The rising sun will be darkened
and the moon will not give its light.
11 I will punish the world for its evil,
the wicked for their sins.
I will put an end to the arrogance of the haughty
and will humble the pride of the ruthless.
12 I will make man scarcer than pure gold,
more rare than the gold of Ophir.
13 Therefore I will make the heavens tremble;
and the earth will shake from its place
at the wrath of the Lord Almighty,
in the day of his burning anger.

Isaiah 24:1-6
24 See, the Lord is going to lay waste the earth and devastate it; he will ruin its face and scatter its inhabitants —  2 it will be the same for priest as for people, for master as for servant, for mistress as for maid, for seller as for buyer, for borrower as for lender, for debtor as for creditor.  3 The earth will be completely laid waste and totally plundered. The Lord has spoken this word.

4 The earth dries up and withers, the world languishes and withers, the exalted of the earth languish. 5 The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant. 6 Therefore a curse consumes the earth; its people must bear their guilt. Therefore earth’s inhabitants are burned up, and very few are left.

Isaiah 24:18-23
The floodgates of the heavens are opened, the foundations of the earth shake. 19 The earth is broken up, the earth is split asunder, the earth is thoroughly shaken. 20 The earth reels like a drunkard, it sways like a hut in the wind; so heavy upon it is the guilt of its rebellion that it falls — never to rise again.
21 In that day the Lord will punish the powers in the heavens above and the kings on the earth below. 22 They will be herded together like prisoners bound in a dungeon; they will be shut up in prison and be punished after many days. 23 The moon will be abashed, the sun ashamed; for the Lord Almighty will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and before its elders, gloriously.

Isaiah 65:17-19
17 “Behold, I will create
new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
and its people a joy.
19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem
and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
will be heard in it no more.

Zephaniah 1:14-18
14 “The great day of the Lord is near — near and coming quickly.  Listen! The cry on the day of the Lord will be bitter, the shouting of the warrior there. 15 That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness, 16 a day of trumpet and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the corner towers. 17 I will bring distress on the people and they will walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the Lord. Their blood will be poured out like dust and their entrails like filth. 18 Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the Lord’s wrath. In the fire of his jealousy the whole world will be consumed, for he will make a sudden end of all who live in the earth.”

Isaiah 34:1-4
34 Come near, you nations, and listen;
pay attention, you peoples!
Let the earth hear, and all that is in it,
the world, and all that comes out of it!
2 The Lord is angry with all nations;
his wrath is upon all their armies.
He will totally destroy them,
he will give them over to slaughter.
3 Their slain will be thrown out,
their dead bodies will send up a stench;
the mountains will be soaked with their blood.
4 All the stars of the heavens will be dissolved
and the sky rolled up like a scroll;
all the starry host will fall
like withered leaves from the vine,
like shriveled figs from the fig tree.

Joel 2:1-11
2 Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill. Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming. It is close at hand —   2 a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and blackness. Like dawn spreading across the mountains a large and mighty army comes, such as never was of old nor ever will be in ages to come.

3 Before them fire devours, behind them a flame blazes. Before them the land is like the garden of Eden, behind them,  a desert waste — nothing escapes them. 4 They have the appearance of horses; they gallop along like cavalry. 5 With a noise like that of chariots they leap over the mountaintops, like a crackling fire consuming stubble, like a mighty army drawn up for battle.
6 At the sight of them, nations are in anguish; every face turns pale. 7 They charge like warriors; they scale walls like soldiers. They all march in line, not swerving from their course. 8 They do not jostle each other; each marches straight ahead. They plunge through defenses without breaking ranks. 9 They rush upon the city; they run along the wall. They climb into the houses; like thieves they enter through the windows.

10 Before them the earth shakes, the sky trembles, the sun and moon are darkened, and the stars no longer shine. 11 The Lord thunders at the head of his army; his forces are beyond number, and mighty are those who obey his command. The day of the Lord is great; it is dreadful. Who can endure it?

All these passages from the Old Testament contain imagery that speaks of judgment coming on the earth in the form of signs in the heavens–the sun and moon being darkened, and stars falling or going out (similar to that in Matthew 24:29), as well as destruction coming on the earth similar to what we see in 1 Peter.  In this regard Isaiah 24 is the most striking.  I quoted some of its verses above but the entire chapter is worth reading to get the full impact.

Likewise in Isaiah 65:17-19 we find language about a new heaven and a new earth identical to that which we see in 2 Peter 3:13 and Revelation 21:1.  No doubt Peter, and John (who wrote Revelation), were guided by these words from Isaiah (John of course, was also speaking about a personal revelation he had from Christ himself).

A theme we observe in many of these verses is that of the “day of the Lord,” a day on which God finally comes to judge the wicked and vindicate the righteous (i.e., those who have remained faithful to God).  We see this theme also in 2 Peter 3 and in other passages we’ve already examined like 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12.  It is a day of judgment but also a day on which God’s people are vindicated and rescued from evil once and for all.

From these verses and the consistency we see between them, it would appear that Scripture does indeed teach that the world will end one day; that God will finally intervene in history, bring evil to a close, and rescue his righteous ones and carry them to a new place.  The heavens and the earth we know will be destroyed, and a new heaven and a new earth will be created to take their place.  Unlike this fallen world, the new heaven and the new earth will be untainted by sin or evil.  It will be the abode of the righteous and of God himself, as we see in Revelation 21:3-4 ~ “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

In Parts 1 and 2 of this series we saw that Matthew 24:29-31 speaks of the return of Christ, which occurs after the tribulation:

29 “Immediately after the distress of those days

“‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’

30 “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. 31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.”

The signs in the heavens in verse 29 refer, then, to the end of the world.  Judgment comes on the nations of the earth, while the people of God are gathered from the four winds to meet Jesus in the air and be taken to the new earth.  This is the event commonly known as the rapture (for evidence of this claim, see Parts 1-3 of this series).

I’ve made it clear in this series that I hold to a post-tribulation rapture view.  Now, there are many post-tribulationists who believe that following verse 31, after the angels gather God’s people from the ends of the earth to meet Jesus in the air, Jesus brings them right back down again to inaugurate the millennium, his 1000-year reign on the earth, spoken of in Revelation 20.

Now, this could be the case.  However, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me that, following signs of destruction in the heavens, Jesus would rescue his people in the rapture, only to turn around again and bring them back to the earth for the millennium.

In Matthew 24:29 the heavens seem to be breaking up (stars falling, the sun and moon no longer giving their light).  A cataclysm is coming on the world.  In verses 30-31 Jesus comes on the clouds of heaven to take his people away.  And that appears to be the end of the story.  The rest of Matthew 24 is explanatory material giving more information and admonitions about certain aspects of what he’s already said, but the narrative of end-time events ends with the rapture in verse 31.  The same is true in the Mark and Luke versions of the passage.

We see this same thing in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, which we’ve already shown to be describing the same events as Matt. 24:30-31 (see Part 2 for more on this):

16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever (emphasis added).

Just as in Matt. 24:31, this is the end of the story.  And it says “so we will be with the Lord forever,” not “and so we will reign with the Lord for 1000 years.”

I will deal with the millennium in another post.  Suffice to say for the moment that, while I do hold to a post-tribulation rapture position, I don’t believe the rapture will be followed by the millennium.  Instead, as I’ve already said, I believe it will occur as this world is meeting its end and the new heaven and new earth spoken of in Isaiah 65:17, 2 Peter 3:13, and Revelation 21:1 is being created.

Let me add parenthetically: I don’t believe the end of the world will come as the result of something like a nuclear holocaust.  For one thing, a cataclysm like that could possibly destroy the world, or at least render it uninhabitable; but it wouldn’t be able to destroy “the heavens”.  I believe the destruction of the world described in the Bible will come about as a sovereign act of God intervening in history and the affairs of the world, not as the result of anything humanity does.

Now, someone reading this may feel I’ve made an awfully dire prediction for the world.  And you’re right: I have.  I believe it is based on what is taught in the Bible.  A message of judgment it not popular these days.  Everyone wants to hear only comforting messages about God.  People want to hear about God’s love, not his wrath.

God is a loving God, but he is serious about dealing with sin and evil and evildoers.  The Bible is clear that the wrath of God is coming on the world (see John 3:36, Romans 1:18, Romans 2:5-8, Ephesians 5:5-6, Colossians 3:5-6, 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10, 1 Thessalonians 5:8-9).

However, in his love, God has provided a way of escape from his wrath.  That way of escape comes through giving our lives to Jesus Christ.  Just as Noah built the ark to save his family from the flood, so God has given his Son as a way of escape from the judgment coming on the world.  I implore you to place your faith in Christ so you can know that you will be able to go with him when he returns.

Regarding the passages I’ve cited which speak of the destruction of the heavens and the earth, there are some who interpret them symbolically rather than literally.  I will share that point of view and respond to it in my next post.  In that post I will also share a couple other passages of Scripture which are interpreted to reveal a different outcome for the world when Jesus returns than the one I have professed here.  So I hope you will stay tuned.

Up next: “Part 5 – Will the World End or Be Renewed?–A Different Take”

If you’ve found this post or this series helpful, please share it on your social networks via the Share buttons below.  Thanks!!

Signs of the Times – Thoughts on the End Times, Part 3

Part 3 – Final Thoughts on Why I Don’t Believe in a Pre-Trib Rapture

Click these links for Part 1 and Part 2

In the first two parts of this series I’ve explained in detail from Scripture why I don’t believe the rapture will occur before the tribulation.  There’s so much material to cover I’ve had to break it up into three posts. Even so they’re long posts.

Today I want to conclude my thoughts on the rapture and then in future installments I’ll move on to consider other aspects and views of the end times.

Slim Support From Scripture

There’s only one verse of Scripture I’ve ever heard quoted specifically to support the idea of a pre-tribulation rapture.  There may be others, but I’m not aware of them, and would be happy for someone to bring them to my attention.  The only verse I’ve ever heard used to buttress to the idea is Revelation 3:10 ~

Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.

Pre-tribulationists interpret the words “the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth” as referring to the great tribulation, and they see this verse as a promise that the modern church will be kept from having to endure it.  However, when we look at the context of this verse, we find several problems with interpreting it as support for a pre-tribulation rapture.  Let’s consider that context.

Seven-Churches-of-RevelationChapters 2 and 3 of Revelation contain letters Jesus instructs John to write to seven churches in the region of Asia Minor, as pictured at left (this is modern Turkey).  Revelation 3:10 is part of a letter to the church at Philadelphia (not to be confused with the American city by that name :-) ).  The entire passage pertaining to this letter reads as follows (with verse 10 highlighted):

“To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:

These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. 8 I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. 9 I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars — I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. 10 Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.

11 I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. 12 Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name. 13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. – Revelation 3:7-13

As I said above, Jesus told John to write letters to seven churches.  In most of these letters Jesus has a word of commendation as well as a warning word of rebuke.  The letter to the church at Laodicea contains no commendation.  The letter to Philadelphia is the only one without a rebuke.

Note that the promise in Revelation 3:10 is only for the church at Philadelphia, and not for any of the other seven churches.  Jesus is promising to keep that one church from the hour of trial.  He doesn’t make this promise to any of the others.

Do you see where I’m going with this?  If the promise in Revelation 3:10 was only given to one of seven churches, then logically, that promise would only apply to one seventh of Christians today.  So at best this would mean only a small portion of today’s church would be raptured out, not the church as a whole.  Those who believe in a pre-trib rapture have taken Jesus’s words to one church in the ancient world and have applied them to the entire church in the modern world.

Revelation 3:10 says Jesus gave this promise to the church at Philadelphia because they endured patiently.  We might do well to ask what they endured? Most likely persecution and trial.  So even the promise doesn’t mean they won’t suffer.  It sounds as if Jesus gave it to them because he felt they had suffered enough already.

The fact that Jesus had a rebuke for each of the other six churches implies they had not endured to the same extent as the church at Philadelphia.  To these other churches Jesus basically says “You better shape up or else you’re going to come under judgment.”

So it is with the modern church. If there was a pre-trib rapture, Jesus words to the modern-day church would no doubt be the same: Unless you repent, you will face the tribulation.

Another question to consider about Rev. 3:10 is exactly what Jesus means when he says “I will also keep you from the hour of trial.”  Does keeping them from the hour of trial automatically equate to a rapture?  If that were the case we might expect to see the word “deliver” instead of “keep”–“I will deliver you from the hour of trial.”  But instead he says “keep.” This could mean “preserve” or “protect” rather than deliver.  Some today believe that rather than taking Christians out of the tribulation, God will protect and preserve them in the midst of it.  This is very likely what Jesus means for the Philadelphians in Revelation 3:10.

Another Passage of Scripture

Now let’s consider a second passage of Scripture.  In response to my first post in this series someone quoted 1 Corinthians 15:51-56 as if it were proof of a pre-trib rapture.  The passage does mention the rapture, but once more there’s nothing in it that says the rapture will happen before the tribulation:

51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

The key verses pertaining to the rapture are 51-52: “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.”

This language is reminiscent of that in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18, which we looked at in my last post:

16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.

Both passages describe a trumpet blowing followed by the raising of the dead.  They appear to be describing the same event, and they are.

Now, there’s nothing in either of these passages to signify exactly when they will occur, except we can presume at the end of the age because they refer to the resurrection.  Yet as I noted in my last post, this event is the same one as described in Matthew 24:30-31, which we know it occurs after the tribulation.

So those who interpret 1 Corinthians 15:51-56 as referring to a pre-trib rapture are viewing it out of their pre-trib grid.  There is nothing in the passage itself that calls for a pre-trib rapture.  They are reading the passage through the lens of their theology.

Jesus Returns Twice??

The pre-tribulation view of the rapture requires Jesus to come back twice: first, secretly, before the tribulation to rapture out the Christians, and then again openly at the end of the tribulation to establish his millennial kingdom on earth.  This idea of Jesus coming back twice is not based on sound biblical interpretation.  It wrongly assumes that 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 and Matthew 24:30-31 are separate events, with no scriptural basis for separating the two.

Pre-Tribulation Rapture Theology is a Recent Invention

The pre-trib view of the end times is a relatively recent development in church history.  While there is some evidence that this view may have had a few adherents in the early church, it was not generally accepted.  In fact, it didn’t come to prominence until the 19th century.  John Nelson Darby, a leader in the Plymouth Brethren movement, is considered the father of Dispensational theology and also the idea of the pre-tribulation rapture, which he began to teach around 1830.  This view became very popular both in Great Britain and also in America and was disseminated widely in the succeeding decades. It contributed greatly to British Zionism which was very influential in the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.  Dispensationalists in particular believe Israel becoming a nation again is significant in hastening the last days and the return of Christ.

The pre-tribulation view of the end times was very popular among a lot of evangelical and pentecostal groups back in the 1970s and ’80s but seems to be giving way to some other views nowadays.  In future posts we’ll look at some of these other views that are growing in popularity.

In my next post, however, we’ll examine a question that’s important for understanding God’s purposes in the last days: Is the world coming to and end, or will it be renewed?  Stay tuned.

Feel free to share your thoughts on the end times and the rapture by adding a comment of your own.

If you feel this post and this series are worthwhile, please share them on your social networks via the “Share” buttons below.

Signs of the Times – Thoughts on the End Times, Part 2

Part 2 – More On Why I Don’t Believe in a Pre-Trib Rapture

(You can read Part 1 here.)

Following the response to my last post I thought it would be worthwhile to share a few more reasons why I don’t believe the rapture will come before the tribulation.  In the process we will examine some Scripture from Paul’s letters to see what they have to say on this question.

the-raptureHere now, are more reasons I don’t believe the rapture will occur before the tribulation:

1) There is no statement anywhere in the Bible that the rapture will take place before the tribulation.  Likewise, in biblical descriptions of the end times, there is no mention of a rapture before the tribulation.

Take Matthew 24 (and its parallels in Mark 13, Luke 17:20-37 and Luke 21:5-36), for example.  These passages describe the period leading up to the tribulation, the tribulation itself, and the time right after the tribulation.  Nowhere in the description of events prior to the tribulation do we see anything resembling a rapture.  The only place in Matthew 24 that sounds anything like the kind of in-gathering of Christians we think of as the rapture is at the end of the passage, in  verses 30-31 (see also Mark 13:26-27).

In these verses we’re told that after the tribulation “he [that is, Jesus] will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matt 24:31).

Those who believe in a pre-tribulation rapture will say these verses are not about Christians because they refer to the “elect.” Pre-tribulationists say the word “elect” here refers to Jews who converted to Christianity after the (pre-trib) rapture.  However, this interpretation is a function of their theology and not based on the text itself.  Outside of these Gospel passages, every other occurrence of “elect” in the New Testament refers to Christian believers.  And so it must in these passages as well, for there is nothing linguistically or contextually that calls for any other interpretation.

Those who believe in a pre-tribulation rapture also claim that everything in Matthew 24 takes place after the rapture, but there’s nothing in the context to suggest that.  The disciples ask in verse 3 what will be the sign of Jesus’ return and of the end of the age, and the rest of the chapter is his answer.  Nowhere does he tell them “but you don’t have to worry about any of this because you will be raptured out.”  He is speaking to his disciples, after all.  If anybody deserved to be raptured before the tribulation, it was the twelve.  If, as the pre-tribulationists argue, modern-day believers should be saved from the tribulation, then how much more did Jesus’ twelve apostles deserve it?

And yet Jesus speaks to them about the events to come as if they will be there.  Notice he uses the word “you” throughout the passage.  “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars.”  “You will be…persecuted and put to death.” “When you see…’the abomination that causes desolation….”  “Pray that your flight will not take place in winter.”  “…if anyone says to you ‘Look, here is the Christ!’…do not believe it.”  Jesus spoke to his disciples as if these events were going to happen to them.  (Now this presents another problem with the interpretation of this passage, but I won’t deal with that here.  Instead, I’ll save it for a future installment in this series.)

If anyone deserved to be saved from the tribulation, it would be the apostles.  If Jesus didn’t tell them they’d be raptured out before then, why should we expect it?

There is simply no statement anywhere in the Bible that the rapture will take place before the tribulation.  Not in the New Testament, and not in Old Testament prophecy.

2) “But,” someone will reply,” what about the words of Paul?  He described a pre-tribulation rapture didn’t he?”  This is a fallacy of the pre-trib interpretation as well.  Let’s take a look at a couple passages.

We’ll begin with 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

13 Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 14 We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage each other with these words.

Those who believe in a pre-trib rapture assume this passage describes the rapture as it will occur before the tribulation.  However, I assert that the events described in this passage are the exact same ones we see in Matthew 24:30-31 and Mark 13: 26-27.

Pre-tribulationists make much of the fact that this passage appears to say “the Lord himself” will come back for Christians, while the in-gathering described in Matthew 24:31 is carried out by angels.  For this reason they believe these passages describe two separate events.  However, this is a mis-reading of the texts.  Let’s look at them more closely:

Matthew 24:30-31 says: “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other” (emphasis added).

1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 states: “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”

Matthew 24:30 describes the Son of Man (Jesus) coming on the clouds of the sky.  1 Thessalonians 4:16 describes the Lord (Jesus) coming from heaven.  Sounds mighty similar.

Matthew 24:30-31 describes Jesus coming with his angels and a loud trumpet call.  1 Thessalonians 4:16 describes Jesus coming with an archangel (indicating the presence of angels) and a trumpet call.  Again, note the similarities.

Matthew 24:30-31 describes Jesus coming on the clouds and his angels gathering his elect (that is, Christian believers, as we already established above) from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.  1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 describes Jesus and an archangel (and presumably other angels) coming, and believers (both those who have died and those who are still alive) being caught up and meeting him in the air.

Matthew 24:31 says Christians will be gathered from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. Jesus is there in the sky.  Christians are gathered to the heavens, and presumably they are gathered to Jesus.  The angels gather believers and bring them to Jesus.  This sure sounds a lot like being “caught up together…to meet the Lord in the air,” which is the language we find in 1 Thessalonians 4.

The two passages are describing the exact same event–the rapture–and Matthew 24:30-31 makes it clear this happens after the tribulation.

Even if someone wants to make a big deal about the apparent differences in detail between the two passages, here’s something else to consider: There are many places in the four Gospels where the details of certain events are described slightly differently from one Gospel to the next.  (If this comes as a shock to anyone, pick up a Gospel parallel book [or you may even be able to find a parallel on the internet], and you will see what I mean.  A Gospel parallel takes all the passages that are similar in each of the four Gospels and places them side by side so you can compare them.)

Likewise, if you compare the stories of the kings of Judah in the Old Testament books of 1 & 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Chronicles you’ll see some differences in details there, too.  (Again, if this comes as a shock to anyone, stay tuned, because I will be doing a blog post on that in the future.)

Since the four Gospels sometimes differ with each other in details, and Kings and Chronicles also differ from one another in places, it shouldn’t surprise us if the Gospels and Paul seem to describe the rapture slightly different, too. Maybe it is true the Gospel writers believed the angels were going to gather Christians, while Paul’s understanding was that Jesus himself would do it.  Nevertheless, both accounts speak of believers meeting Jesus in the air.  They are still describing the same event, maybe in slightly different ways.  I myself don’t see the descriptions as being substantially different.

3) Now let’s look at another passage from Paul’s letters that speaks of the rapture: 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 ~

Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, 2 not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. 3 Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. 4 He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.

5 Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? 6 And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. 7 For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. 9 The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, 10 and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie 12 and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.

Paul says here he is writing “concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him.”  This is clearly language describing the rapture.  And notice what Paul says about it: “that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. 4 He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God” (emphasis added).

Paul states clearly that the rapture will not occur until “the man of lawlessness is revealed” (some versions have “man of sin,” and for simplicity this is the term I will use from here on)  From the description given, we know that the “man of sin” is the Antichrist, a prominent leader who will rise up in the last days.  Paul says in verses 9-10 “the coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing.”

This man will be a prominent leader, probably a world leader, who will impress many people with signs and wonders; but Paul makes it clear these signs and wonders will not be from God, but from Satan.  Paul calls them “counterfeit miracles.”  This could mean one of two things: Either the miracles will be faked, or else they’ll be real miracles, but “counterfeit” in the sense that they come from Satan and not from God.  Either way, many people will be deceived.

So Paul clearly states the rapture will not occur until after the Antichrist has been revealed.  To understand the timing of what Paul is saying here, it will help us to look again at Matthew 24.

As we saw in my last post, there’s a definite sequence of events in Matthew 24 that spells out what the world’s final days will be like.  A quick summary is as follows:

a) First there is an uptick in wars and natural disasters (verses 4-8).

b) This will be accompanied by an increase in the persecution of Christians and a general increase in lawlessness.  Many will fall away, but some will remain faithful and continue proclaiming the gospel to all nations (verses 9-14).

c) Through this entire time, spiritual deception will grow and grow (verses 4-5, 11).

d) It is after this period that Jesus says “the end will come” (verse 14).

e) This is when the “abomination of desolation” will occur (verse15 and following), and Jesus tells us that this time will be a time of “great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now” (verse 21; see verses 15-22).

f) During the tribulation deception will be at an all-time high.  Jesus tells of many “false Christs and false prophets” during this time who will “perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect — if that were possible” (verses 23-24–and remember, “elect” here refers to Christians, just as it does everywhere else in the New Testament.)

Now, when we compare these events with 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12, which part sounds the most like it?  I think Matthew 24:15-24 most closely resembles 2 Thessalonians 2.

It stands to reason that the abomination of desolation (Matthew 24:15) will be carried out by the man of sin or Antichrist, and in fact this may be the very thing that “reveals” him (2 Thess 2:3).

2 Thessalonians 2:3 also says the rapture will not take place before “the rebellion” occurs (the King James version says “falling away” instead of rebellion).  The Greek word is apostasia, from which we get the English word “apostasy.”  Webster’s dictionary defines “apostasy” as a “renunciation of religious faith” or an “abandonment of a previous loyalty.”  Apostasia can be translated either “falling away” or “rebellion,” in the sense of a rebellion against the faith one previously held.  So 2 Thessalonians 2:3 refers to a rebellion against or a falling away from Christian faith.

These words “falling away” and “rebellion” call to mind Matthew 24: 10-12, which says  “many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another.  And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.  And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold” (ESV, emphasis added).  Lawlessness is pretty much the same as rebellion, so it sounds like the “rebellion” or “falling away” referred to in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 matches the time described in Matthew 24:10-12.  This is further supported by the way in which 2 Thessalonians 2:6-8 talks about lawlessness being released when the Antichrist is revealed (see more on these verses below).

To sum up: 2 Thessalonians 2:3 tells us the rapture will not occur until after a falling away occurs and the man of sin is revealed.  So following our comparison with Matthew 24, this means the rapture will not occur until at least the events described in Matthew 24:10-12 and 15-24 have occurred.

There are some who believe the rapture will take place mid-way through the tribulation, and it may very well be based on this passage in 2 Thessalonians 2.  From a biblical standpoint I find that explanation a lot more accurate than a pre-trib view.  However, in light of Matthew 24:29-31 I still believe a post-tribulation rapture fits the biblical evidence the best.  Nevertheless, I can accept a mid-trib rapture much more easily than a pre-trib one.

Those who believe in a pre-tribulation rapture also focus on some rather vague wording in 2 Thessalonians 2:6-8 ~

6 And now you know what is holding him [i.e., the man of sin] back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. 7 For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming (explanatory note added by me).

Notice the phrases “what is holding him back” in verse 6 and “the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way” in verse 7.  The “him” in verse 6 refers to the man of sin, and the “it” in verse 7 is lawlessness.  Those who espouse a pre-trib rapture believe this refers to the Holy Spirit who resides in believers, and they think the phrase “until he is taken out of the way” is a reference to the rapture.  They believe the church will be raptured before the Antichrist appears, and as a result, the Holy Spirit will no longer be in the world.  In their mind these verses prove the rapture will happen before the tribulation.

However, there are several big problems with this view.  The most obvious one is that Paul himself already contradicted it in verses 1-3.  He specifically–and clearly–says: “Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him…don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed….” (verses 1, 3).

Therefore, whoever or whatever it is that’s referred to as restraining lawlessness and the man of sin in verses 6-8, it can’t be the Holy Spirit, for that would require the rapture to occur before the man of sin is revealed, and Paul has made it clear in verses 1-3 that the rapture won’t take place until after he’s revealed.

Besides, the idea of the Spirit being removed from the world is just bad theology.  The Holy Spirit has been working in the world since the creation (see Genesis 1:2 where the Spirit of God hovered over the waters).  The Holy Spirit didn’t just enter the world on the day of Pentecost.  He entered the church on that day, but not the world, for in some sense the Holy Spirit is always working in the world to bring people to Christ.

Not only that, the pre-tribulationists claim that after the rapture all the Jews are going to repent and turn to Christ.  Only the Holy Spirit can lead someone to repentance and faith in Christ.  How is this going to happen if the Holy Spirit has already been taken out of the world??

I have more to say about why I don’t believe in a pre-tribulation rapture, but I will save it till my next post.

What do you think about my explanation of these passages and the rapture and tribulation?

If you have found these posts meaningful or helpful, please consider sharing them with your friends via your social networks using the “Share” buttons below.

Signs of the Times – Thoughts on the End Times, Part 1

Part 1 – Will the Rapture Come Before the Tribulation?

I’ve never been one to think a lot about the end times.  My grandfather, on the other hand–his thoughts on Christianity all seemed to focus on the last days, or what is often called “Bible prophecy.”  To hear him talk, the Bible only consisted of three books: Ezekiel, Daniel, and Revelation.  These were just about the only Bible books I ever heard him mention, and he was constantly watching TV shows and reading books to try and decipher the Bible’s apocalyptic passages.

I’ve never been like that.  For most of my life I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking or worrying about the end times.

However, the way the world has gone the last several years has gotten me to thinking more about it than I used to.  Our times make me think maybe we’re getting closer to the end.  And I’ve been thinking about the different views I hear about the last days.  The study of the end times is sometimes called eschatology, from the Greek words “eschaton,” which means “end,” and “logos” which means “word.”

I grew up in a denomination that didn’t talk much about Jesus coming back.  Honestly, I’m not sure whether they really believed it or not, even though every Sunday we said: “…From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead” when we recited the Apostle’s Creed–yet a lot of people may not even know what that means, since the language is archaic.  In modern speech it would read “…from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.”  That’s a reference to the second coming of Christ, talking about how he will come from heaven to judge the living and the dead.

But that’s about all that was ever said about it in the denomination I grew up in.  Outside of church you rarely heard anyone mention a belief in the second coming, much less discuss it.

I heard about it from other places, though–through the contemporary Christian music I listened to as a teenager, as well as from my friends in our Bible Belt city who attended more conservative churches.  And from Granddaddy.  The view of eschatology I almost universally heard from all those sources was a premillennial, pre-tribulation-rapture view popularized in 1970s movies like “Thief In the Night,” books like Hal Lindsey’s “The Late Great Planet Earth,” and songs like Larry Norman’s “I Wish We’d All Been Ready,” which included these lyrics:

A man and wife asleep in bed
She hears a noise and turns her head he’s gone
I wish we’d all been ready
Two men walking up a hill
One disappears and one’s left standing still
I wish we’d all been ready

There’s no time to change your mind
The Son has come and you’ve been left behind

This is the view I’ve heard most commonly throughout my life from those who cared about such matters at all.  The premillennial, pre-tribulation rapture view of the end times can be summarized as follows:

In the last days a time of severe Tribulation will come on the earth, as told in Matthew 24:21-22 “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been shortened, no human being would be saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.”  However, pre-tribulation rapturists believe Jesus will come back before the Tribulation to take Christians away and spare them the suffering of those days.  They believe the mention of the “elect” in Matthew 24:22 refers to believing Jews who will turn to Christ after they realize that all the Christians have been taken out of the world, proving Jesus is the Messiah after all.  These Jewish believers then become the “tribulation saints” who are martyred for the cause of Christ as described in Revelation chapters 6 and 7.  So according to this view, Jesus returns briefly just before the tribulation to whisk his people out of harm’s way, and then again for good at the end of the tribulation to set up his millennial kingdom, a 1000 year reign of peace.

Since I grew up in a church that never discussed the last days, the pre-tribulation rapture view was totally unfamiliar to me.  When I began hearing about it from my grandfather, the Christian music I listened to, and from my friends who went to more conservative churches, it all sounded very foreign.  I began reading the Bible for myself as a teenager, and I never found anything in it that seemed to support this view.  So I was puzzled about it.

What I did find in the Bible, though, was Matthew chapter 24 and its parallel passages in Mark and Luke.  The events described in these passages are sometimes referred to as Jesus’ “little apocalypse,” or more commonly as his “Mount of Olives discourse.”  At any rate, they are Jesus’ own words about the end times, and to me they seem pretty straightforward:

Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. 2 But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another, that will not be thrown down.”

3 As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “Take heed that no one leads you astray. 5 For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. 6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: 8 all this is but the beginning of the birth-pangs.

9 “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation, and put you to death; and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. 10 And then many will fall away, and betray one another, and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because wickedness is multiplied, most men’s love will grow cold. 13 But he who endures to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations; and then the end will come.

15 “So when you see the desolating sacrilege spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains; 17 let him who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house; 18 and let him who is in the field not turn back to take his mantle. 19 And alas for those who are with child and for those who give suck in those days! 20 Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a sabbath. 21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. 22 And if those days had not been shortened, no human being would be saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. 23 Then if any one says to you, ‘Lo, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false Christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25 Lo, I have told you beforehand.26 So, if they say to you, ‘Lo, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out; if they say, ‘Lo, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of man. 28 Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together.

29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken; 30 then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory; 31 and he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

32 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 34 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away till all these things take place. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

36 “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. 37 As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39 and they did not know until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of man. 40 Then two men will be in the field; one is taken and one is left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one is taken and one is left. 42 Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But know this, that if the householder had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have watched and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? 46 Blessed is that servant whom his master when he comes will find so doing. 47 Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. 48 But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ 49 and begins to beat his fellow servants, and eats and drinks with the drunken, 50 the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, 51 and will punish him, and put him with the hypocrites; there men will weep and gnash their teeth (Matthew 24:1-51).

In these verses Jesus gives a pretty clear description of what the last days will be like.  They consist of a fairly straightforward sequence of events, which can be summarized as follows (with verse references in parentheses):

  1. First, there will be many false teachers who will claim to come in Jesus name or to be Jesus, but they will not really be from him, and will lead many astray (v. 4-5)
  2. Wars, ethnic tensions, and natural disasters will increase; yet this is only the beginning of the end (v. 6-8)
  3. Persecution of Christians will increase (v. 9)
  4. Many who have espoused the Christian faith will fall away (v. 10).
  5. False teachers will continue to increase (v. 11)
  6. Wickedness will be multiplied, causing the love of many to grow cold (v. 12)
  7. Other Christians will remain faithful to Christ and endure to the end, and through them the gospel will be preached throughout the entire world (v. 13-14)
  8. Once the gospel has been preached to all nations, the end will come, which will bring about a time of tribulation worse than the world has ever known (v. 14, 21)
  9. The tribulation will be sparked by a terrible abomination, the nature of which is not entirely explained, rather it seems to be referred to almost in code, the answer to which is contained in the Old Testament book of Daniel.  The time surrounding the abomination will be so severe that it will require people to drop whatever they’re doing and flee to the mountains and presumably to remote places where they will have to hide out wherever they can find (v. 15-22)
  10. Meanwhile the false teachers, false Christs, and false prophets will continue to proliferate, deceiving everyone but the elect, the chosen followers of Christ. The deception will even be bolstered by great signs and wonders performed by these false teachers.  There will be rumors flying that Jesus has returned, but we are warned not to listen to them, because Jesus’ return will be so obvious that rumors won’t be necessary (v. 23-28)
  11. [It's worth mentioning here that 2 Thessalonians 2:3 warns against a great false prophet who will arise known as "the man of sin" or "man of lawlessness," traditionally referred to as the Antichrist. More on this in an upcoming post.]
  12. At the end of the tribulation, signs will appear in the heavens as follows: “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken; then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn….” (v. 29-30)
  13. Then “they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory; and he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (v. 30-31).  This is the rapture, and as we see, it comes at the very end of the tribulation, not before.

(Note: In the passages from Mark and Luke which parallel this one, the order of some of the events is different, but all the same ingredients are there.)

This is why I don’t subscribe to the pre-tribulation rapture view.  After studying the Bible for years, I’ve concluded that Jesus’ words in Matthew 24 and the parallel passages in Mark and Luke are our template for understanding the end times.  Sound principles of Scriptural interpretation say that scripture interprets scripture, and that we should rely on the clearer passages to help us understand the more difficult ones.  Jesus’ words on the last days are some of the clearest statements we have, along with the teachings of Paul, and so these can serve as our guide.  All the other material in the Bible that pertains to the end times, such as Revelation and the books of Ezekiel and Daniel, should be understood through the lens of Jesus’ words, and not the other way around.  Jesus’ words are the key.

And there is nothing in Jesus’ words, or anywhere else in the Bible for that matter, that shows a pre-trib rapture.  The pre-tribulation rapture teaching is an invention of men.  It didn’t come into existence until the 19th century and is a product of a Western mindset that wants to avoid pain and suffering.  The reality is, as a friend of mine once pointed out, there has been more persecution of Christians in the last century than in all of prior church history combined.  It would seem the tribulation has already begun for Christians in some parts of the world.

Those who believe in a pre-trib rapture claim that the word “elect” in Matthew 24:22 refers only to Jews who become Christians after the tribulation begins.  Yet every other use of the word “elect” in the New Testament refers merely to Christians in general.  There is nothing in the context of this verse that implies it should mean anything other than Christians as well.

The view I espouse is called a post-tribulation rapture view, and it seems to be gaining ground.

In my next post I’ll look at some key passages in Paul’s letters that also speak of the end times, to see how they fit in, and what they teach us about the last days.

What’s your view of the rapture and the tribulation?  Do you think we’re in the last days?