Thursday, May 14, 2015

ISI 21: The End Times

[This Bible study starts here.  And remember that my answers to some of the questions are in [brackets].]

Icebreaker Question: 
            What are some of your more embarrassing or humorous moments?  (Come on, we’re all friends here.)  Alternative question:  If you knew Jesus was coming back tomorrow, how would you spend your last day on earth?

Open With Prayer

Read Lesson:
            No study on the “less clear” things of Scripture would be complete without a look into the End Times.  There are many different ideas about how the world will end.  Of course, most Christians believe that it will end when Christ returns and God makes all things new.  But what isn’t clear is the timing of everything.  And the biggest “unclear” thing: Will there be a rapture?  Will it come before, during, or after the tribulation?

            I have studied this really intensely at different times over the years.  Reading every book on the topic that I could find, studying the Bible, checking the original Greek meaning of the words, etc.   To me, it is a huge, complex, wonderfully-frustrating puzzle.  And I could never really understand it . . . until this last time that I studied it.  And I was finally able to settle this issue in my mind once and for all. 

            Yes, I do believe that there is going to be a rapture before the tribulation (trib) starts.  And I am thoroughly convinced of it. 

            And I am going to tell you why I think this.  (All of this is my opinion.  I am not a scholar.)  I am not trying to convince you of my view, but I do hope it gets you talking with each other and maybe studying it on your own. 

            Personally, I don’t think this topic comes up enough in conversations.  And since so much of the New Testament is devoted to Christ’s return, I think it’s worth talking about.  I think He wants us to look into this issue.  Because once you take the “end times” seriously, you begin to consider how you are living and if you are reaching other people.  Because someday all of this will come to an end, regardless of if there is a rapture or not.  So we all need to be thinking about the only things that will last, the souls of people.

            And the Book of Revelation comes with a special blessing for those who read it:

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

            [It also comes with a serious warning for those who mess with this book:

            “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book:  If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book.  And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.”  (Revelation 22:18-19 
            It almost makes me afraid to even comment on this book and offer my opinions.  Once again, these are just my opinions and how I best understand it.  I am not taking away or adding anything.  Just telling you what I think it says.]   

            As Rev 1:3 says, “The time is near.”  So to get you thinking about the not-too-distant end of the world, here is my idea of how things will go.  This is the super short version, because it would take a book to explain it thoroughly.  And I will put verses next to what I am referring to so that you can look them up if you want.   

The Key
            Basically, what I learned this last time around is a “key” that is critical to keep in mind when studying the end times.  Once you grasp this, it isn’t as confusing anymore.  (It’s still confusing, just not as confusing.)

            Key:  There is not just one coming of Christ and there is not just one group of people taken out of the earth. 

            I believe that there are a few comings of Christ, but they are all a part of His returning again, after the church age.  His return is more like a process, in stages, than it is one single event.  And the stages include:

            1.  His invisible coming to rapture the Church out before the trib,

            2.  His visible coming to take out the believers who are going through the trib (the 6th seal), and

            3.  His coming at the end of the trib to set up His 1000-year earthly reign. 

            And there are several different groups of people taken out of the earth at different times.  A different group is taken out before each new set of judgments is unleashed.

            1.  One is the rapture of the Church before the seals are opened and the tribulation starts (represented by the elders around the throne in Rev 4:4). 

            2.  One is the “great multitude” taken out of the great trib at the 6th seal, before the trumpets start. 

            3.  One is the “harvest of the earth,” of those who were victorious over the beast’s number and image, before the bowl judgments start. 

            4.  And one is the group of dead martyrs who rise before the “thousand years” start (Rev 20). 

            How merciful of our God to take out the newest believers before the next set of judgments is unleashed. 

Another Key:
            Scripture refers at different times to Jesus’ visible coming and to His “invisible” coming when He takes the church out in the rapture. 

            And I think the key here is that when Scripture talks about Christ coming “in power and great glory” and with His angels (Matthew 24:30-31), it is referring to His visible coming during the trib, at the 6th seal.  (And occasionally, it might be referring to His final coming on a white horse to defeat the armies that have gathered against Him during Armageddon, before the 1000 years of His earthly reign.  But you can tell by the context if it’s referring to that battle or if it’s referring to Jesus coming back visibly to take people with Him.) 

            But when Scripture just refers to His coming, like in 1 Thess 4:16, it may be referring to the rapture.  The verses that I think refer to His invisible coming at the rapture never talk about Him coming at that time “in power and great glory, with angels.”  Those kinds of passage always refer to the visible coming. 

            However, this doesn’t mean that it’s always talking about the rapture every time it refers simply to “His coming” without using the words “in power and great glory, with angels.”  There are times when “His coming” does refer to the visible coming, even when it doesn’t include phrases like “in power and great glory, with angels.”  And you can figure out which it is by reading it in context and seeing what the passage was already talking about. 

            So to recap quickly:  If it refers to His coming “in power and great glory, with angels,” it’s most likely the visible coming at the 6th seal (unless it’s referring to Armageddon).  But if it just says “His coming” then it most likely means the invisible coming at the rapture (unless the context shows it was already talking about the visible coming). 

            Are we having fun yet!?! 

Matthew 24
            And we also have to be careful because sometimes the same chapter will refer to both of His comings (the invisible and the visible), flopping from one to the other without spelling it out clearly (at least I think so).  Such as Matthew 24.  (This can get confusing, I know.  So open your Bibles to Matthew 24 to see what I am talking about.)

            This passage talks about “signs of the Lord’s coming” in verses 4-35.  And this is referring to the tribulation and to the celestial signs that happen (6th seal) right before His visible coming.  Then in verses 36 and on, it switches to the rapture and how it will come like a “thief in the night.”

            I know that some think that Matthew 24 is going in order, that the celestial “signs of His coming” happen before the “thief in the night” coming, that the rapture happens during or at the end of the trib. 

            However, I do not think that Matt 24:36-41 can be talking about events that happen during the tribulation because it is basically says that life will be going on as normal, with people eating, drinking, marrying, and believers working side by side with unbelievers.  Life will be so common and cushy that the believers are warned to stay awake, to not get so spiritually relaxed that we fall asleep. 

            I don’t think this can possibly be describing life in the tribulation when believers everywhere are being persecuted and martyred and are going to be highly alert for Jesus’ coming.  In those days, “there will be great distress,” worse than any other time.  And “if those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.”  (Matthew 24:21-22)

            This does not sound anything like believers and unbelievers working and living alongside each other when one is taken and the other is left.  I think Matthew 24:36-41 has to be describing a more normal time, when the church is at risk of falling asleep while waiting for Jesus to rapture them out.  I don’t think there will be any “spiritual falling asleep” during the trib.  The “thief in the night” coming – the rapture - happens before the trib. 

            Another point to consider:  Verse 36 (referring to the rapture) says that “no one knows about that day or hour,” that no one will know when “one will be taken and the other left.”  It will catch us unaware, which is why we need to stay awake and be alert.  But verses 32-34 (referring to Jesus’ visible coming during the trib) say that we can roughly discern the timing of Jesus’ visible coming during the events of the tribulation, that we can know “when summer is near.” 

            So in one section, we are told that the persecution will be terrible, that there will be signs in the sky, and that we can roughly discern the timing of Jesus’ return.  But in the other, we are told that life will be going on as normal, that there will be no warning, and that we cannot know when the “thief” will come and “snatch away” the people.  I think this helps confirm the idea that these are describing two different events, the visible second coming of Jesus during the trib and the invisible coming of Jesus for the believers during the rapture (before the trib, ending this church age and beginning the “day of the Lord,” the period of time when Jesus is on the move again).

            Further confirmation:  Matthew 24:30 (about Jesus’ visible coming) says that Jesus will come back on the clouds and that He will send His angels with a trumpet call to gather His elect.  Jesus will be doing the sending, with the trumpet call for His angels. 

            But Matthew 24:36 says that even Jesus doesn’t know when the “thief in the night” coming will happen (the rapture), that only the Father knows that.  And I think this “thief in the night” coming is the same event seen in 1 Thess 4:16.  (1 Thess 5:1-3 even talks about not knowing when the “thief in the night” will come, linking it tightly with Matthew 24:36-41.)  And in the 1 Thess 4:16 event, Jesus will come back “with the trumpet call of God.”  In this event, God does the sending.  This is the rapture.  And God the Father sounds the trumpet because only God the Father knows the date of the rapture. 

            In one event, Jesus sounds the trumpet and sends the angels to gather His people.  And in the other event, God sounds the trumpet to send Jesus while the believers rise to meet Him in the air.  I think this shows that Matthew 24:36-41 is the same event that is spoken of in 1 Thess 4:16 and that Matthew 24:4-35 is a different event completely.

            I also think the 1 Thess 4:16-17 event is the same one described in 1 Cor 15:51-52.  “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.”

            If they are talking about the same event – the rapture – then it will happen so fast that people won’t really be able to see it.  It will happen “in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye,” making it virtually invisible and incredibly sudden.  Once again, it will be a “thief in the night” whom we have to watch for so that we aren’t caught asleep and unaware.  

            But according to Matthew 24:30 (Jesus's visible coming), it says that all people will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds in power and great glory.  This does not sound as fast as the twinkling of an eye.  It sounds like two different events. 

            One is sudden and virtually unseen and will sneak up on us.  And one will linger long enough that people all over the world will see Jesus on the clouds, and they will mourn.  These are two different events.  Matthew 24:4-35 describes the trib and Jesus’ visible coming at the 6th seal.  And Matthew 24:36-41, 1 Thess 4:16-17, and 1 Cor 15:51-52 describe the rapture.  (I hope your head isn’t spinning right now.  Mine is.)

            [I wondered about the “last trumpet” in 1 Cor 15:51.  If it is referring to the last trumpet of the trumpet judgments then it means that the “twinkling of the eye” rapture doesn’t happen until near the end of the trib.  But according to Strong’s Concordance, it has nothing to do with the trumpet judgments.  It is a “military allusion,” possibly more like a call to gather together, to assemble, such as seen in Num 10:2-7.  This would make sense if 1 Cor 15:51-52 refers to the rapture.  The trumpet call here would be a “final call,” the call for the true believers of the church-age to gather together, meeting the Lord in the air.  Side note:  Are these sounds real (click here)?  If so, it makes you wonder.] 

            I think the reason Matthew flops between the two – talking first about Jesus’ visible coming during the trib and then talking about the earlier rapture - is because it is answering the disciples’ questions of verse 3 in order.  The question about
the sign of His coming (I believe they mean His visible coming, when the whole world sees Him) comes before the question about the signs of the end of the age (I think they mean the end of the “church age” that we are in right now, which will end when the Church is raptured out).  And so Christ answers them in order.  But Matthew doesn’t clearly let the reader know when it switches from one to the other.

            [Update:  Something else I just learned, which I think helps explain Matthew's flopping: I think Matthew is actually taking two conversations and mashing them into one.  You can find these conversations in the book of Luke too.  However, Luke breaks them into two different conversations at two different times.  The conversation about the rapture happens in Luke 17:20-37 (the "lightning flashes" and "days of Noah" stuff), but the tribulation conversation happens in Luke 21:7-33.  Luke clearly differentiates these as two different conversations, but it seems that Matthew crams them into one.  But at least Matthew sets up his chapter with the questions Jesus answers in the order He answers them (Matthew 24:3): first about the destruction of Jerusalem, second about the signs of Jesus' [visible] coming, and finally about the signs of the end of the age, which I believe means the end of the church age, the rapture.]  

            [And flopping between two events also happens in 2 Peter 3 where, in verse 10, it says the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night and then it says that the heavens and earth will be destroyed with a roar, by fire, etc.  I do not think this is describing one singular event, but instead it is describing the first and last events of the “end times,” of the “day of the Lord.”  The “thief in the night” coming is the rapture which ushers in the “day of the Lord.”  And it concludes with the destruction of the old heavens and earth at the end of the 1000 years.] 

            So you have to be careful when looking at passages because they could be referring to different events in the same section.  It gets easier to understand if you keep the different comings of Christ in mind because you learn to identify which one the passage is talking about. 

Different Groups of People
            I believe that Revelation calls groups of people what they are.  And it goes in order.  When they are introduced in Revelation is when they showed up in heaven, when they were taken out of earth. 

            1.  The elders (representatives of the Church, the living and dead believers who were taken up in the “eye twinkling” rapture) are there before the seals are opened at the beginning of the trib (Rev 4:4).  And since I believe the elders represent the raptured church, I do not think the rapture can come mid-trib or post-trib because these guys are already around the throne before the seals are opened. 

            (There will be more on the elders in a minute, but it is important to note that, according to Strong’s Concordance, the word “elder” is never used of angels.  Therefore, we can conclude that they are human.  But why would there be humans around the throne before the start of the trib?  Because they were taken out in the rapture, along with the true believers, spared from the “hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole earth to test those who live on the earth.” Rev 3:10.)

            2.  The Great Multitude shows up in heaven after the persecution of the great trib and before the trumpet judgments start, and they are called “those taken out of the great tribulation” (Rev 7:14). 

            3.  Those “victorious over the beast and his image and number” (seen in Rev 15:2 but harvested in Rev 14:14-16) are those harvested from the earth after the trumpet judgments, before the bowl judgments.  They are those who became believers after the “great multitude” was taken out and they were around to experience the beast’s number and image. 

            Do not try to define groups as something else.  Revelation tells us who they are (for the most part, but sometimes you have to look in other verses to clarify this, such as for the elders) and when they arrive in heaven. 

            I do not think Christians of the church-age will go into the tribulation or that the raptured church is part of the “great multitude.”  I believe all living and dead church-age believers are taken out in 1 Thess 4:16-17, in the twinkling of an eye where the dead rise first.  They are not part of the “great multitude” of Rev 7:14 because the “great multitude” is “taken out of the great tribulation.” 

           Consider that all the dead believers of the church-age would have never seen the trib, yet they will be the first to rise in 1 Thess 4:16-17.  So if there was no earlier rapture of the Church and if the “eye twinkling rising, when the dead rise first” was actually talking about the great multitude taken out during the trib, then the “great multitude” would have to include all the dead believers of the church-age, as well as all the living believers of the trib. 

            If that were the case, Rev 7:14 should say something like this: “These are those who came out of the great tribulation, plus all the dead believers from the church-age that were resurrected before the survivors were taken up.” 

            But the great multitude is only called “those taken out of the great tribulation.”  And that’s exactly who I think this multitude is. 

            Most likely, the dead believers from the church-age would outnumber those taken out of the trib.  So if the Church is supposed to go into the trib and be taken out with the great multitude, why aren’t the dead believers mentioned?  Why only mention those “taken out of the trib”? 

            I think this large group of dead believers from all of history is not mentioned because they don’t rise up at the 6th seal of the trib.  They were already taken out with the Church in the rapture of 1 Thess 4:16-17, before the trib starts. 

            And those taken out of the great trib (Rev 7:14) are those who went into the great trib, those who became believers after the Church was raptured. 

            It makes much clearer sense to me when I consider that there are separate groups of people taken out before each new phase of the End Times starts.  (If it wasn’t spinning before, then I am sure your head is spinning now.  I’m sorry!)              

End Time Events in Order
            Now, if you want to know more (if I haven’t already confused and exhausted you), I will go into this a little bit more in depth, with Bible verses in parentheses.  Basically, here is how I think things will happen. 

            (FYI, I will not be adding “I think . . .” before everything.  Just know that this is all my opinion about how it will happen and what the Bible says.  Look it up for yourself to check the accuracy of my opinion.  It really is the most fascinating, frustrating topic to study.  It’s painfully fun!) 

            Right now, we are in the “church age” era.  This is when God has opened the door of salvation up to the Gentiles through grace and through Jesus’ sacrifice, as opposed to the sacrificial system of the Jews that was before this. 

            I believe that the end of the church-age will be when God takes the true believers out of this earth in . . .

            1.  The rapture:  Christ comes invisibly to rapture believers (dead and alive) before the seals (the trib) start.  (Matthew 24:36-41, 1 Thess 4:16-17, 1 Cor 15:51-52) 

            The people who are raptured are those who “long for the coming of the Lord” (2 Tim 4:8).  In this verse, it says that those who long for the Lord’s coming will receive the “crown of righteousness.”  I think this crown is the same crown that the 24 elders are wearing in Rev 4, showing that the elders represent the true followers of Christ that were raptured out. 

            These elders are the 12 leaders of Israel (possibly representing Jewish believers) and the 12 leaders of the church (the apostles, possibly representing the Gentile Church).  This would include all believers in Christ, up until the end of the church age. 

            Another confirmation that the elders represent the raptured church: These 24 elders are the 24 names that are written on the foundations and the gates of the New Jerusalem in Rev 21:12-14, which is the home of the raptured believers. 

            In fact, in Rev 21:2, the New Jerusalem is seen coming down out of heaven “prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.”  The Church is the “bride of Christ.”  And I think that after the rapture, while the rest of the world is going through the trib, the church goes to the New Jerusalem where it is being “prepared” to be presented to her “husband.”

            And another thing that makes me think that the elders represent the raptured believers is that we get a view of the throne of God in Ezekiel 1, but there is no mention of elders around the throne at that time.  So they must come at a later date, at the rapture. 

            After the rapture, those left on earth will then enter the tribulation as the seals begin opening sometime after the rapture.  But it doesn’t have to start right away.  There could be an amount of time before the seals open, maybe as the world adjusts to the mass disappearance of Christians everywhere and reorganizes into a new world government.

            I think that the tribulation is the “hour of trial that will come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth” (Rev 3:10).  It is a time when God draws a line in the sand, makes the truth of His Word very clear, and forces people to make a decision about Jesus.  And since the believers of the church-age already made their decision for Christ, there is no reason for them to go into this time of trial, this time of choosing.  They already chose.  And so they are kept from that hour of trial, as Rev 3:10 promises. 

            This promise to “keep you from the hour of trial” was given to the church in Philadelphia (Rev 3:7-13).  I believe this church represents the ones who make up the raptured church, the genuine believers.  As I said, they don’t need to go into the time of testing because they kept God’s commands to “endure patiently,” holding onto their faith until Jesus’ return. 

            Also notice that they are told to not let anyone take their “crown” (verse 11).  I believe this is the crown we saw the elders wearing, the crown of righteousness given to those who long for the coming of the Lord.  (This is different than the crown of life promised to the church of Smyrna, to those who die for their faith in Rev 2:8-11.) 

            This ties the Philadelphia believers to the elders.  I think the elders are representatives of the Philadelphia believers.  The raptured church.  The true believers who longed for the coming of the Lord.  (Neither the great multitude nor the harvested group are seen with crowns.  Only the elders.)

            But what does it mean to let someone take your crown? you might be wondering.  How can we lose our crown?  I believe it means that we can lose our spot in the rapture if we get distracted by life, if we let this life take our focus off of Jesus and our heavenly calling and responsibilities, if we stop longing for the coming of the Lord, and if we get comfortable and fall asleep and fail to keep watch for the “thief in the night.” 
            The Philadelphia believers were commended for keeping God’s Word and for refusing to deny Jesus’ name, even though they only had a little strength left.  I think this could mean that they were being pressured to compromise on God’s truth and to deny that Jesus was the only way, to agree with society that all faiths are fine and equal.  And the fact that they have “little strength” tells me that more and more churches were compromising and more and more pressure was being put on the Philadelphia church to compromise and that it was getting harder and harder to cling to the truth and to stand up for our faith.  Is this not exactly the times we are in right now?  With society pressuring us more and more to conform and to compromise, threatening to slap us with legal and social consequences if we don’t.

           [I think this helps explain the mass martyrdom of Christians once the seals open.  After the rapture, society will be filled with all non-Christians.  And I think many of these non-Christians - those who criticize and condemn Christians for our different lives, beliefs, values, and morals and for the fact that we won’t compromise God’s truth - will be glad to see us go, probably even claiming that we were removed from earth because we were so backwards and evil.  They will finally be rid of us and now the earth will be theirs, to make it into what they want it to be. 
            However, those who know what’s going on will realize that they had it wrong all along and that the Christians had it right, that Jesus is indeed the only way.  And they will turn to Him in great numbers (the great multitude of Rev 7).  And this will terrify the staunch non-believers, those who were relieved to finally be rid of the Christians and who are disgusted by the new uprising of them.  And they will go on a rampage to destroy them, with even family members turning against each other (Luke 21:12-17).  And with the Holy Spirit being taken out of the earth along with the Christians, there will be little to stand in the way of the wrath of Satan, the Anti-Christ, and the anti-Christians, which will lead to huge numbers being martyred.]    

           Okay, now back to what we were talking about … I think this warning to not let anyone take your crown is the same kind of warning we see in Matthew 24:36-51, which says to not fall asleep, to stay alert and watch for His coming and don’t let the thief in the night catch you unprepared, unready.  And the corresponding passage in Luke 21:34-36 gives us the additional details that “that day” (I believe it’s the rapture day) will sneak up on those who are distracted by life’s anxieties instead of watching for the Lord and faithfully working for the Lord. 

            [Another interesting point – Luke 21:36 says “Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”  This is telling us that there is a way to escape “all that is about to happen,” which I think refers to the tribulation (described in Matthew 24:4-35, Mark 13:5-31, and Luke 21:8-33).  And I think the way to escape it – to not let anyone take your crown, your place in the rapture – is to stay alert, be faithful till the end, and to pray, as instructed in Luke 21:36.  Pray that God helps you stay faithful till the end, that He helps you focus on what you should be focused on and that He gives you the strength to face the repercussions from society for clinging to God’s truth and to Jesus’ name. 
            And if we do this, we are promised that we will keep our crown and be spared from the hour of testing (Rev 3:10) and that we will be able to “stand before the Son of Man” (which I think could refer to the idea that faithful believers will be called up in the rapture to meet the Lord in the air, that those who are called up in the rapture are the ones who can stand confidently before the Lord knowing that they never lost their faith, got distracted, or turned their backs on Him.]                

            And lastly, notice that the Philadelphia church is told (in Rev 3:12) that those who overcome will become a pillar in the temple of God, where they will live forever, and that the name of the New Jerusalem will be written on them.  As we saw, this is the city where the elders’ names are written and where the raptured church lives, thereby linking together again the Philadelphia believers, the raptured church, and the elders.

            [An interesting side note: In Malachi 3:16-18, we read that the Lord makes a “scroll of remembrance” in which he records those who feared the Lord and honored his name.  “They will be mine in the day when I make up my treasured possession.  I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him.  And you will again see the distinction between those who serve God and those who do not.” 

            This is a promise to those who are faithful to Him.  They will be His on the day He makes up His treasured possession.  I think that day is the rapture, when He gathers up all those who belong to Him.  Both the Philadelphia believers and those on the scroll are promised to be “spared.” 
            Spared from what?  I think they will be spared from the trib and from damnation.  The Philadelphia believers are spared because they were faithful, wise servants who watched for the Lord’s coming and did His work.  And those on the scroll are spared in the same way “a man spares his son who serves him,” because they feared the Lord and honored His name. 
            And on the day these people are spared (gathered up at the rapture), they and all those left behind (as seen in Malachi 3:18 and Rev 3:9) will see how God rewards (spares) those who are true believers.  And everyone will see a clear distinction between those who are true believers and those who are not.]

            2.  Seals 1-4 and the start of the tribulation:  Seal 1 is a rise in false christs.  Seal 2 is war.  Seal 3 is famine.  Seal 4 is death by sword, famine and plague, and wild animals.  I'm not sure if the seals start the trib or if they are immediately before the trib or if they are going on now and will simply increase as the trib gets closer.

            I tend to think that the “birth pangs” of Matthew 24:4-8 coincide with the opening of the first four seals, after the rapture.  I say this because these seals sound very much like the birth pangs in Matthew, because I think the first half of Matthew 24 is talking about the tribulation, and because the elders are already around the throne before the seals are opened.

           And I think that 1 Thess 5:1-3 indicates that the real labor pains (the “end of the world as we know it” labor pains) will start after the “thief in the night” coming. 

            “Now, brothers, about times and dates [of the rapture, I think, discussed in 1 Thess 4:13-18] we do not need to write to you, for you yourself know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.  [I believe the general ‘day of the Lord’ starts with the rapture and ends with the establishment of His 1000-year earthly reign.]  While people are saying ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.”  

           I believe this is saying that people will be saying “Peace and safety” (failing to realize the coming doom) and going on with their lives like it was in the days of Noah.  And then, the “thief in the night” comes (the rapture of the dead and living believers) … and this begins the destruction of those left on earth, starting with the labor pains (the first 4 seals).  This passage doesn’t say that this is when the labor pains increase, but it’s when they start.     

            (And while I could be wrong, I think that the Matthew 24:34 “generation that will not pass away until all these things have happened” is referring to the generation that sees the seals start opening, not to any current, living generation.  It’s saying that it won’t take more than a generation to get from the start of the seals to the end of the tribulation, including any time in between.)

            Of course, over history, we have seen the same kinds of things that will happen during the seals: false christs, war, famine, etc.  And many “prophets” claim that the birth pangs have started and the seals are opening.  But I think this has been a “You ain’t seen nothing yet” time of woe.  And these things will increase drastically after the rapture, once the seals open, after the elders have taken their place around the throne.  Evil will run rampant once all believers and the Holy Spirit are removed.  

           I do not know if the seals will coincide with the start of the actual 7-year trib or if there will be a bit of time between the opening of the seals and the beginning of the trib.  But the next event after seals 1-4 (and the rapture, of course) is …    

            Signing of the Treaty: The definite start of the official 7-year trib is when a “7-year peace treaty” is signed between the Anti-christ (AC), Israel, and other leaders, as seen in Dan 9:27.  (Sometime during the opening of these first 4 seals or at the end of it.)  This starts Israel’s missing 70th week (Dan 9:24).  That seventieth week is when God’s attention turns back to Israel.  It is not meant for the Church.   And most of the things that happen during that time - the tribulation - are specifically about Israel. 
            I believe that during these seals and the early part of the trib when the peace treaty is signed, the AC hasn’t yet been given supreme authority to rule.  He is just one of a group that signs this treaty, trying to bring the world together.  (It’s not hard to imagine this happening, if you think of the chaos that would happen after millions of people vanish.)
            The rise of the Anti-christ is seen in Dan 7:19-25.  He is the “little horn” who will rise to power, surpassing the 10 “kings” that were already in power and subduing (over-throwing?) 3 of them.  Most likely these 10 kings are those who head up the various parts of the world, to bring the world under this peace treaty.  And then the AC subdues 3 of them and eventually rises to supreme power. 

            3.  Breaking the Treaty and the 5th Seal:  Daniel 7:25 says that the “saints will be handed over to him for a time, times and half a time.”  That’s a year, two years, and half a year.  So for three and a half years, he will wage war against believers and Israel.  I think this is after the first four seals. 

            I believe that for the first half of the trib, the AC is ruling along with the other "kings," under the peace treaty.  And then halfway through the 7-year trib, the AC breaks the treaty, turns on the kings, and turns on Israel.  He assumes supreme authority and sets up the “abomination that causes desolation” (Dan 9:27, Matt 24:15) and starts to martyr believers.  This mass martyrdom is the 5th seal.  It ushers in a time of great distress for Israel, specifically, and for believers everywhere (Matt 24:9-25).

            [At some point, the AC receives the “fatal wound” that had been “healed” (Rev 13:3).  And he is now Satanically-empowered and people are astonished and follow him, believing him to be a god.  This may be at this 5th seal, when he sets up the “abomination,” proclaiming himself to be god and martyring those who worship the true God.  Or this “fatal wound” and Satanic-possession may happen when he sets up the image that can talk/kill and issues the number of the beast (Rev 13:15), which I think comes at a later date than the 5th seal.  I’m not sure yet.  I haven’t quite figured out the time frame for some of these events.]

            The 5th seal is when John sees the souls of the martyrs under the altar as they cry out for God to avenge their blood.  I believe these are tribulation martyrs, possibly just from the first 4 seals and/or from the time of mass martyrdom, but I don’t think it includes those martyred during the time of the talking image and the number of the beast.  They come later.

            And God says that these martyrs will have to wait a little longer to see justice poured out, after the rest of the martyrs (of the last half of the trib) are killed by the AC. (The 5th seal martyrs may or may not be resurrected with the great multitude.  If the great multitude includes only living believers, then these martyrs wait under the altar until they are resurrected with the rest of the martyrs in Rev 20:4-6.) 

            4.  Seal 6:  Sometime in the midst of this martyrdom, the 6th seal is opened.  This is when there is a great earthquake, the sun turns black, moon turns red, stars fall to earth, the sky recedes like a scroll, and every mountain and island is moved from its place.  Then the people hide in the rocks, crying out and asking the rocks to fall on them and to hide them from the Lord’s great day of wrath.  (Rev 6:12-17)  

            This is also described in Matthew 24:26-31.  Here we are given additional details about what happens just after the distress of the 5th seal days.  It says that after the cosmic events, the sign of the Son of Man appears in the sky, and all the nations mourn.  (This is when they cry to the rocks to fall of them.)  And they mourn because they just witnessed the . . .

            5.  The Visible Coming of Jesus:  I think this is the “sign of the Son of Man” that appears to everyone, making them terrified, running to the rocks, mourning because they missed the truth all along. 

            This is when everyone will see Jesus coming, in power and great glory and with His angels, to gather up the believers out of the tribulation.  And the group He gathers is the great multitude in white, holding palm branches in Rev 7:9.  As it clearly says, they are those “who came out of the great tribulation.”  (Also see Matthew 24:30-31, 2 Thess 1:7, 2 Thess 2, and Joel 2:30-32.  These also refer to the great trib and/or the cosmic events and Christ’s visible second coming.) 

            This multitude may be the living believers that are taken out of the trib or the living and dead of the trib, up until this point.  (However, as I said, it may or may not include the martyrs under the altar because they may be resurrected with the martyrs at the end.  I don’t know.) 

            This multitude is so huge because everyone saw all believers disappear in the rapture, convincing many people that the Bible is true after all.  This would explain the multitude that “no one could count.” 

            At this time, God leaves 144,000 Jewish people on earth to be witnesses, sealed with the seal of God on their forehead. 

            I think it’s interesting to note that during the church-age, believers are given the Holy Spirit inside of them as a seal (Eph 4:30 says we were sealed with the Holy Spirit for the day of redemption.  I believe that day is the rapture.)  But in the trib, people are sealed with the name of God on the forehead (Rev 9:4).  This further confirms that the church-age believers and the Holy Spirit are taken out before this time.

            [“I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God.  But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God.”  (Luke 12:8-9) 

            I wonder if this verse refers to the visible second coming of Christ.  Matthew 24:31 tells us that when Jesus comes back again with power and great glory, He will send His angels to gather up His elect.  And I wonder if this is when, in front of the angels, Jesus disowns those who disowned Him.  Basically, He passes them up, telling the angels not to gather them up with the elect.  They disowned Him, so now He disowns them before the angels.  Just a thought.]      

            The rest of the people who did not get taken out with the great multitude are still in the midst of the AC’s 42-month reign, and they all go into the . . .

            6.  The Trumpet Judgments:  Trumpets 1-6 are in Rev 8 and 9.  This is the “dreadful day of the Lord.”  It is a time to punish and pour out His wrath on those who refused Him. 

            I wonder if this is when the AC creates the image that can talk and issues the mark of the beast, 666.  It could have started earlier, but the Great Multitude wasn’t described as being victorious over the beast’s image, name, or number.  But the next group taken out is, in Rev 15:2.  This is why I think that the number and image might not be introduced until after the great multitude is taken out. 

            Who knows . . . maybe it’s the fact that the great multitude was taken out that causes the AC to introduce this new system of keeping track of people and controlling them?  Plus, at this point, the AC would be Satanically-empowered and able to perform “wonders and miracles.”  So it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine an image being created that can talk and kill. 

            And, after witnessing Jesus coming back for His people, there would be no more wondering if Jesus was real or not.  People will know that if they take the mark, they are pledging allegiance to the Anti-christ, to Satan.  So they cannot claim, “Oops, I didn’t know that was the mark of the beast.  I didn’t know there was an Anti-christ.”  It will be crystal clear.  And their decision to choose Jesus or Satan will be deliberate. 

            Either way (whether the image/number started at the 5th seal or after), there will be more martyrs during this time under the image/number of the beast.  

            7.  The 7th Trumpet and The Harvest:  When the 7th trumpet is blown, John basically hears the message that “Christ has begun his reign.”  I think this trumpet ends the AC’s 42 months of reign, because it is now Christ’s turn to reign.  And then we read in Rev 14 about the Harvest.  This is when those who came to faith during the trumpets are harvested with a sickle-swing (Rev 14:14-16). 

            They are taken out before the bowls (aka vials), and we see them standing before the throne with harps in Rev 15.  They are the ones who “had been victorious over the beast and his image and number.”  (Rev 15:2-3)  They are the living and possibly the dead who were not martyrs (because the dead martyrs who were victorious over the beast do not come to life until just before the 1000 years).  And after they are taken out, the rest of the people on earth go into . 

            8.  The Bowls (Vials) - the winepress of God’s wrath, meant for the destruction of Babylon.  These bowls are poured out very quickly, one right after the next.  Sores on those that worship the beast, water turning to blood, the sun scorching people, darkness over the beast’s kingdom.  The 6th bowl is when the Euphrates dries up and the evil spirits go out to gather the people for battle at the 1st Armageddon.  The 7th bowl is when John hears, “It is done” and there is a storm and the biggest earthquake, the great city splits in three, 100 lb hail, cities collapse and mountains fall.  Then comes . . .

            9.  Jesus’ Coming for the 1st Armageddon:  This is when Jesus returns to defeat his enemies the first time and to start his reign on earth during the 1000-year millennial kingdom.  He comes this time not on clouds with angels to gather His people, but on a white horse with the armies of heaven (most likely including the raptured believers and angels) to defeat His enemies at the 1st Armageddon.  (Rev 19:11-21, Zec 14) 

            [Some people want to place the rapture here.  But why take people up and out of the earth (1 Thess 4:16-17), only to land back on it moments later?  It doesn’t make sense.] 

            At this time, the devil is bound and prevented from roaming the earth and causing problems for 1000 years.  After this 1st Armageddon but before the 1000 years is . . .

            10.  The Resurrection of the Dead Martyrs of the Tribulation:  We read about them in Rev 20:4-6.  They “had not worshipped the beast or image or received his mark.”  The dead martyrs are resurrected to reign with Christ 1000 years on earth, along with others who are on thrones and given right to judge (Rev 20:4).   

            These martyrs are specifically those who did not worship the beast – this makes them tribulation martyrs.  And so I think that those martyred during the church-age (before the trib) went up in the rapture, when the dead in Christ rose first, before the living.  Then comes . . . 

            11.  The 1000-year Messianic Kingdom on earth:
            Okay, so now we have the beginning of the 1000-year earthly reign of Christ (Rev 20), when Satan in bound.  This is the time when things are peaceful and Israel is again blessed and stands out as a leader and as God’s treasured people.  The lion lies down with the lamb, the person that dies at 100 years old is considered young, etc.  There is peace and long life.  Obviously, there are humans procreating on the earth during this time, so there must have been some people on earth who didn’t get destroyed by the bowls and who didn’t worship the beast and who escaped being martyred, but who didn’t become believers early enough to be taken out with the harvest in Rev 14:14-16.  (And this may or may not include the 144,000 Jews who were sealed in Rev 7 and those who were supernaturally protected on earth during the trib in Rev 12:14.)     

            Life in these 1000 years is also seen in Isa 11 and Isa 65:20-25. 

            [I know that in Isa 65:17, it talks about God creating new heavens and a new earth and then it goes on to say that a man that dies at 100 will be considered young.  But how can there be death, even at 100 years old, in the new heavens and new earth when it says in Rev 20:14 that death will be destroyed?  Before the new heavens and new earth?  The best way that I can understand it is to think that Isaiah switched gears.  He refers to the fact that there will be a new heaven and earth one day, and then he switches to talking about life right before that, when Christ comes back and starts those changes with His 1000-year reign on earth.  I’m still not sure.] 

            Anyway, at the end of the 1000 years comes . . . 

            12.  The 2nd Armageddon:  Satan is released and he goes out to gather his troops for the 2nd Armageddon, the battle to end all battles.  But this battle is won by fire coming down from heaven and consuming the enemies that have gathered against Israel and the Lord.

            This is most likely when the events of Ezekiel 38 and 39 happen.  Gog is summoned to attack Israel after their long peaceful break (during the 1000 years).  But they are defeated by God – not through a battle with people, but by God causing them to turn their swords on each other, and through plague and bloodshed, and torrents of rain, hailstones, and burning sulfur (i.e. fire from heaven).   (Ez 38:31-33, Rev 20:9). 

            [However, I am wondering if Ez 39 might refer to the 1st Armageddon which is before the 1000 years, because this would allow for 7 years for Israel to clean the land after the battle.  Because I’m not sure that Israel would have 7 years to clean the land at the end of the 2nd Armageddon because that’s when God makes a new earth.  Why bother cleaning for 7 years if God is just going to make it new again right away?  But I don’t know for sure.

            And Ez 38 might refer to the 2nd Armageddon at the end of the 1000 years, which would fit with the idea that this battle happens after a long time of peace, when Israel has recovered from war and lives without walls or protective measures.  I cannot imagine that this would happen before the rapture or during the Trib.  So this time of peace and recovery must be during the 1000 years.  I’m not sure about all of this, but it is starting to seem to me that Ez 38 and 39 might be describing two different wars, but in reverse order.]

            And then there is . . .

            13.  The Great White Throne Judgment, when the dead (who are not the tribulation martyrs or dead believers that were resurrected earlier) are resurrected to face judgment.  So the last people to rise (after the battle that ends the millennium) are all the living and dead who have not been judged yet.  They go to the Great White Throne judgment. 

            I’m guessing that these are all the people of the 1000-year earthly kingdom and all the unbelieving dead from all time, because the believing dead from before the 1000 years would either have been taken up in the rapture (1 Thess 4:16-17) or, if they were martyrs, they would have been included with the resurrected martyrs.

            And all of the dead unbelievers and the dead from the 1000 years and those that are still living during the 1000 years are all judged according to their works, and God separates His sheep from the goats.  The goats go to the lake of fire and the sheep to the new heaven and new earth.

            [The raptured church doesn't go through the Great White Throne Judgement.  They, after the rapture, appear before God at what's commonly called the "Bema Seat Judgment" (Romans 10:14, 2 Corinthians 5:10), to be judged and rewarded according to how faithful they were in building God's Kingdom while they were on earth.]

            [Oh, new thought . . . it could be that Ez 38 and 39 do indeed both refer to the 2nd Armageddon.  And maybe the 7-year cleaning happens while the Great White Throne judgment is going on, because surely there are people still on earth waiting for awhile for their turn to be judged.  And they might spend that time cleaning up after the war.  Just an idea.  To be fair, many Christians place these Ezekiel battles before the 1000 or even before the tribulation.  And this is possible, especially given what's happening between Israel and Syria right now, early-mid 2018.  But I think they most likely describe what will happen after the 1000 years.  Or there could be a near/far fulfillment - one partial fulfillment before the 1000 years and one complete fulfillment after.  None of us knows for sure.]

            14.  And then the New Jerusalem comes down from heaven, and a new heaven and new earth is created.  Only those who have overcome and whose names are written in the book of life (showing that they have a right standing before God) are left to inherit the new heaven and the new earth.  There is no one else left.  Everyone else will be thrown into the lake of fire.   (Rev 20:15)  This is when the old order of things passes away.  (Rev 21:1-4)  And there is no more sun, death, sin, or tears, as he wipes every tear from their eyes.  Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire at the end of the Great White Throne judgment – Rev 20:14. 

            This is my brief explanation of my understanding of the end times. 

            So why should all of this matter to us?  Why should it matter to us if we are raptured out or not? 

            Of course, if we are not raptured out, we should be aware of what will happen.  But if we are, as I believe with every fiber of my being, we need to be concerned for those left behind.  That should be a driving passion in our lives, helping people find God while there is still time.  This doesn’t mean that we have to beat them over the head with Truth, but we need to be living it out in our own lives so that they can see it.  And we need to share it with others whenever the opportunity arrives.  And we need to be seeking His Kingdom and His righteousness.  Because everything else will burn up in the end.

Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth
            “And throw the worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  (Matthew 25:30)
            “The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  (Matthew 13:49-50)

            I used to wonder about the “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  Where is this place and who gets thrown there?  It sounds like an awful place to be, and I always assumed that it happened in hell. 

            But what I couldn’t figure out is why the “servant who hid the talent” in Matthew 25 is thrown there, too.  It makes it sound as if a believer (a lazy one) ends up in a place with weeping and gnashing of teeth.  But how can that be if “weeping and gnashing” happens in hell, as seen in Matthew 13?  How can a believer end up in hell? 

            But I think I see the difference now.  The Matthew 13 passage says that the wicked are thrown into the “fiery furnace,” whereas the Matthew 25 passage says the servant is thrown “out into the darkness.” 

            I believe that these are two different places and times where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  One is the final judgment when unbelievers are thrown permanently into hell, the fiery furnace.  And the other is at the rapture when lazy, unprepared believers are left behind in the “darkness.” 

            As seen in the parables in Matthew 24 and 25, those believers who were not ready for the Lord to come back again were left behind.  This doesn’t mean they are eternally condemned to weeping and gnashing of teeth, but that they missed the first coming of Jesus when He takes with Him those who were prepared for His coming (Matthew 24:44), those who “longed for His coming” (2 Tim 4:8), and those who were busy doing His Will (Matthew 25:14-30).
           At the rapture, Jesus takes only the believers who are ready and who are doing His Will, while the rest on earth go into the darkness, the tribulation.  And those who didn't have real faith or who knew the Truth but didn’t live it will be left behind to weep and gnash their teeth.  (Although they missed the rapture, they will be taken out with the great multitude later, if they are truly believers.)

            So why should this matter to us?  If I am right (and I’m not totally sure if I am, but I am leaning this way), it should matter because it means that there are believers of God (lazy servants) who will be left behind to face the tribulation because they were not ready, did not stay awake, and were not doing what they should be doing.  And if this is true, it should greatly affect how we live our lives because how we live our lives will determine if we are taken out in the rapture or not.  (I'm not sure if Christians can be left behind or not, but it's worth considering.  See this post for more on that.)

            If we took this warning seriously, it would cause us to strive for righteousness, to remain vitally connected to Him, to prioritize our lives as God wants us to, to focus on eternal things and not temporary things, and to get busy discovering and doing the Lord’s Will.  This is how we get ready for the Lord’s coming.

            There are two types of believers ("servants") working alongside each other (Matthew 24 and 25).  The difference is that some servants are doing “the will of the Father,” ready for Jesus to come back at any moment.  The others are lazy, not doing the Lord’s work, and have fallen asleep on the job.  And I believe that Scripture says that these people will be left behind in the rapture, thrown outside into the darkness, “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 

            And then there are those who only think that they are believers because they are doing things in the name of the Lord.  But in reality, they are not.  They are not really living God’s Will.  They are following their own will and plans, for their own glory.  And although they claim to know Jesus, Jesus doesn’t know them. 

            “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you.  Away from me, you evildoers!’”  (Matthew 7:21-23)

            Those Jesus does know are the ones who do the will of God, who hear His words and put them into practice (Matthew 7:24).  And the rest - those He doesn’t know - will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  They will be thrown into the fiery furnace at the end of time, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth forever.

            Two different times when there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth: after the rapture and in hell.  Two different people who will weep and gnash their teeth: unprepared believers who are left behind at the rapture and unbelievers who end up in hell.

            If this is true – if knowing and doing the Will of God makes all the difference, if it separates the genuine believers from the fake ones, if it separates the prepared servants from the unprepared ones – it seriously begs the question: “What is the Will of God and how can you know it?” 

            (I also wrote about this in the “Understanding God’s Will” series on my blogs, and  Here are a few passages which talk specifically about the things that are part of God’s Will.
            1 Peter 2:15-17:  “For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.  Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God.  Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.”                     
            1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:  “Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

            1 Thessalonians 4:3-7:  “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable . . . For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.”

            Colossians 1:10:  “And we pray [that you are filled with the knowledge of God’s Will] in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,”

            I think that many Christians have gotten soft, lazy, selfish, comfortable, and sleepy.  We are much more concerned with our happiness on earth than with eternity.  And we think that we can coast through life, accomplishing the things God wants us to accomplish while we go about doing whatever we want to do. 

            For some reason, we skip the parts of the Bible that talk about our responsibility, our need to seek righteousness and transform our minds and lives.  Most of us don’t want to put that kind of effort into our Christian walks.  Because it is too disruptive to our lives, our priorities, and our happiness.  And so instead, we hope that we will stumble into God’s Will, that He’ll guide us in it as we go about our lives, and that our “good enough” is good enough for the Lord.  We hope that this will earn us our ticket out of here when Jesus comes back. 

            But the Bible repeatedly and strongly warns us to not fall asleep, to be prepared, and to be found doing the Will of God when Jesus comes back again at a time we do not know.  If I am right in what it means to be “thrown into the darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth” (that lazy believers will be left behind in the rapture) then how we live our lives today will have a huge impact on us when Jesus comes back.  May you be found awake, ready, and busy doing the Lord’s work when He returns.  And may you hear the words that every faithful servant of God longs to hear:

            “ . . . ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!  You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.  Come and share your master’s happiness.’”  (Matthew 25:21)

            So the big question is, are you living like you are ready for His coming?  Are you busy doing His Will and His work?  Because this will make a huge difference in whether you are taken up with Him or left behind in the darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

            Do you long – really, truly long - to hear those words, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”?  Are you waiting for Him to return, prepared for Him to come back at any moment?  Your priorities and how you live your life will testify “yes” or “no.”  They will determine if you will hear “Well done” or if you will experience “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  Don’t let these warnings go unheeded while there is still time! 

            “But seek first His kingdom and his righteousness . . .”  (Matthew 6:33)

            “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. . . . Love your neighbor as yourself.”  (Matthew 22:37, 39)    

            “ . . . whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”  (1 Corinthians 10:31)


Why I think a pre-trib rapture is the most merciful way

            Some people have a lot of trouble accepting the idea that God would rapture the church out but leave everyone else to go through the tribulation.  They think it is heartless and cruel of Him.  I, however, think that a pre-trib rapture is the most merciful thing God could do.

            In the movie Left Behind (with Nicolas Cage), a young woman who missed the rapture looks around at all the pain and heartbreak and devastation . . . and she screams out about how the loving God her mother worshipped would never cause something as tragic as that to happen.  He would never take people away and let others be left behind to face the troubles of the tribulation. 

            Or would He? 

            The thing is, I think that a pre-trib rapture shows just how loving and merciful and patient He is, how much He wants everyone to come to Him. 

            Yes, the tribulation will be a terrible time, unlike any other on earth.  But it is also the best thing He could do. 

            To take out all believers before the tribulation (and to take out the newest believers before each new set of judgments is unleashed) shows great love and mercy for those who have chosen Him as Lord and Savior.    

            But it also shows great concern for those “left behind,” because the tribulation will be a “final call” when God clearly shows Himself and proves the Bible to be true, giving people a last chance to call Him Lord and Savior.  (And let’s not forget how many calls and warnings God has graciously given over time, even putting it all in print in the Bible.  No one will be able to say that God didn’t warn them.  It’s all there, in His Word.) 

            I believe the pre-trib rapture will be the greatest “wake-up call” the world receives.  There will be no ambiguity about Jesus and Satan, heaven and hell, anymore.  And it gives people time during the seals to see the truth and to choose Him before He releases the divine judgments – His wrath – on the staunch unbelievers during the trumpets and the bowls.

            If the rapture is mid-trib or post-trib (which is possible, if the theologians who believe this are correct) then the believers of the church age will face terrible persecution at the hands of man and Satan.  But if this were true, what incentive would there be for the unbelievers to turn to God during this time?  They would have no real reason to think that the Bible was true all along or to desire to turn to Christ in the face of such persecution. 

            But if the rapture is pre-trib and before the massive martyrdom starts, then the world would have the biggest wake-up call ever and the greatest proof that the Bible is true, causing many people to turn to God despite the fact that they know the persecution is coming.  The proof of God would be so shockingly clear that they would know that they have no other option than to choose God or choose eternal death. 

            And so, if the rapture will be the greatest wake-up call and the event that forces people to choose – if it brings many people to Christ – then it is indeed the most merciful thing God can do.

            If there’s one thing that I know about our God (especially as I read Jeremiah right now) it’s that our God is the God of many chances.  He is always calling and calling to the people.  And He constantly warns them about upcoming judgment, over and over again, in the hopes that they turn to Him and repent and that He won’t have to unleash judgment on them. 

            And in so many places, He shields or spares the righteous people when He releases His judgment or punishment.  He pulls out Lot and his family before destroying Sodom and Gomorrah.  He spares Noah and his family from the flood.  In Jeremiah 5:1, He says He will spare a whole city for one righteous person. 

            The way I see it, to spare believers from the tribulation and to send a huge wake-up call (and warning) at the same time to unbelievers - giving more people a chance to come to Him - fits very neatly with God’s character. 

            There are some theologians who claim that the next event on the “end times” schedule is not the rapture, but the final coming of Christ to rule.  They claim that we believers are waiting for Christ to come back and to pronounce final judgment and begin His final reign. 

            While this would be fine for the believers, it would be awful for unbelievers.  If Jesus came back again right now – if there was no rapture and no tribulation – then there would be no second chance for unbelievers.  When He returns, there is no chance to change your mind.  Your decision has been made.  Your final answer given. 

            While this sounds fine for believers, I think a rapture and tribulation are more merciful for unbelievers because it gives them another opportunity to choose God.  As terrible as the tribulation will be, it would be eternally tragic if they never had this last chance, if they never had this final proof that the Bible is true and the opportunity to get their souls and their allegiance in order. 

            The tribulation is not just meant to be a time of God’s judgment being unleashed, but it is also meant to be a time when people will clearly and knowingly decide who they will worship.  There will be no “I just didn’t realize that God was real and the Bible was true.”  Everything will be made crystal clear to force people to decide, to pick a side.  And as I said earlier, since the believers of the church-age have already decided, there is no reason for them to go into this “deciding time.”     

            All of these things put together – the timing of the events, the explanation of the groups of people and how they are taken out of the earth, the descriptions of the elders, and the knowledge of God’s mercy and love and how He gives many chances and always spares the righteous – point clearly to a pre-trib rapture.  At least for me. 

            That being said, I know I could be wrong.  And if so, then I know what to expect during the trib.  And I know that even if we have to face persecution or martyrdom (as many people around the world are currently facing), my eternal soul is secure.  Satan may be able to destroy our bodies, but he can never destroy the souls of the saved. 

Are you ready?

            Studying and understanding the end times has only created in me a burning desire to live for eternity and to help as many people as possible find their way out of the fire.  (Not that I always succeed at that, but it is my passion.)  Maybe this is the “blessing” spoken of earlier for those who read Revelation and take it to heart. 

            Understanding the horrible events of the tribulation – and knowing that I would not want to go through them myself – makes me concerned for the unbelievers I know.  Yes, I know it says that there will be many that come to faith during the tribulation, but do we want our loved ones, neighbors, and friends to be left behind to experience that?   

            Believing in a pre-trib rapture shouldn’t make us lazy and comfortable, like “Oh, at least we’ll be out of here and don’t have to worry about going through that.”  It should make us go, “Hey, friends, this is what will happen if you are left behind.  Take the way out that God provides, not only the way out of the tribulation but also the only way out of hell.”

            2 Peter 3:11-14:  “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?  You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed it’s coming. . . . So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.”  

            Do you live in a holy, godly life?  In a way that draw others to Christ?  Are you at peace with God?  Are you living in a way that you can have confidence when you stand before Him?  Are you doing all that He is asking you to do?  Are you ready to die or for Christ to come back again, in the twinkling of an eye?  If that were to happen today, would there be any important task left undone?  Would He say, “Well done, good and faithful servant”?  Are there any unreached loved ones that don’t know about your faith and the reason for the hope you have?  Do they see anything different about you that would make them want to know our God?  Do you long for the coming of the Lord or have you made this earth your home?  Are you fighting for souls and God’s Kingdom in prayer, if not in action and word?  This will be all that remains when everything else burns up.  Where are your treasures? 

(There are only a handful of questions here.  The majority of your time will probably be spent discussing what you read here, sharing your ideas of how things might happen, and researching Scripture to see what you can find.)

1.  What are your opinions on this issue?  Anything in particular you want to share?  Any other Bible passages you want to share?

2.  What is your view on the “end times”?  What are some other views out there?  And what do you agree or disagree with?  Do you think there will be a rapture?  If so, when and how?  (Also, some people believe that it's the Christians who will be left behind and everyone else will be taken out.  What is your opinion on this?)     

3.  What do you think the “blessing” is for those who read Revelation and take it to heart?

4.  What does this passage mean?  In what ways have you heard people add to it or take away from it?
            “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book:  If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book.  And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.”  (Revelation 22:18-19) 
            (Bonus questions:  What is the "tree of life"?  In Revelation 22:2, it's described as being for the "healing of the nations."  And in Genesis 3:22, God prevents Adam and Eve from eating from this tree after they sinned because if they ate from it they would have lived forever in their fallen condition.  What was the purpose of the "tree of life" in the Garden of Eden before the Fall, when there was no death yet because death came later as a consequence of Adam and Eve's rebellion?  Why is the tree in the New Jerusalem, in eternity, when there will be no more death or tears or pain?  What "healing" does it provide for the nations if there is to be no more death?  Will we be required to keep eating from it?  I have no good answers for these.  I am just wondering because I always believed that there was no possibility of death before the Fall and there will be no possibility of death in eternity.  So then why is there a tree of life?  What is it for?) 

5.  Some Christians live as though they are not interested in this topic at all.  Does it matter if we are interested in this issue or not?  Do you think it’s okay with God if we are apathetic about it? 

6.  What might be some differences between someone who takes this issue seriously and someone who doesn’t give it much thought? 

7.  What are some of the pitfalls and possible effects of being “too interested” in it?  How about “not interested enough”? 

8.  The Bible warns against setting dates of Jesus’ return.  Why does it warn against doing this?  What are some consequences of doing this? 

9.  What are some other ways that we (Christians or the world) might go off-track when it comes to the “end times”?  What misconceptions or assumptions might we have about it?

10.  What are some things about this issue that confuse you or that are unclear?  Can you find any guidance in God’s Word about it?

11.  Are there things that you are certain about?  Can you back it up with Scripture?

12.  2 Tim 4:8 mentions that there is a crown of righteousness waiting for those who “long for the coming of the Lord.”  As I said, I believe that this is the same crown that the elders wear and that the elders represent those who are raptured out before the tribulation.  If this is the case, then not everybody who claims to believe in God goes up in the rapture, but only those who “long for the coming of the Lord.” 
            Do you think it’s possible that this is the right interpretation of Scripture?  (It’s okay if you disagree.  Many educated, intelligent people say different things.)  But if this is true, what does this mean for our lives?  What does it mean to “long for the Lord’s coming”?  How can we “long for His coming” yet still live in this world in a meaningful, impactful way?  And how do some Christians get this wrong? 

13.  What do you think about the “weeping and gnashing of teeth” section?  Could it really be that “throw the worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” means that lazy Christians who are “asleep” when Jesus returns and who are not doing what they should be doing will be left behind in the rapture?  If not, what else could this passage be saying?  If so, what does this mean for us today?

14.  What are some other things that are “the Will of the Father”?  Things that we should be doing when Jesus returns?  Can you find other verses on “the Will of God”?   

15.  What are some things that we end up doing instead of doing the “Will of the Father”?  What are some reasons we do this? 

16.  What are some ways that we “fall asleep” and reasons why we “fall asleep”?  Do you think Christians in general are sleepy, or are we awake and prepared?  What kinds of things wake us up? 

17.  I said that I thought a pre-trib rapture was the most merciful way.  That it shows not just God’s justice and judgment but also His mercy and patience and love.  Do you agree?  Why or why not?

18.  Does it matter what we believe about this issue, the order of the events, when and if the rapture happens?  And how should our beliefs affect our lives?  If there is a rapture, how much of the "end times" and of the antichrist will Christians be around to see?  Is there any way we need to be prepared?

19.  Are you living in a way that you can have confidence when you stand before Him?  Are you doing what He is asking you to do?  Are you seeking righteousness?  If you were to die today or if Christ came back again for His bride, would there be any important task left undone?  If you knew that Jesus would come back within the next year, what would you do?  What grievance or grudge would you let go of?  What fear?  What pursuit, longing, or heart idol?  Who would you forgive?  What would you pursue over the next year?  What goals would you focus on?  And what is preventing you from doing these things right now?  How can we be living each day in preparation for our last day? 

20.  Speaking of being ready for death, do you think that God has planned the day and the way we die?  Or does He just know about it?  Could how we live (or accidents or illness or bad decisions) affect our death in any way, or does God plan it all? 
            [If you want to get deeper into this: What about suicide?  If you believe God plans the day and the way we die, does this mean He plans for someone to kill themselves?  Does He cause one person to survive an accident but cause the person next to them to die?  Or do these things “just happen,” with His knowledge and permission?  What are your thoughts on death and the Will of God?  Can prayer change the outcome?  And how should all this affect how we live our lives?]

21.  Do you long for the coming of the Lord or have you made this earth your home?  Are you fighting for souls and God’s Kingdom in prayer, if not in action and word?  Where are your treasures?  (These may be more like rhetorical questions and they are just for you, but they are worth contemplating.)