The End-Times 3

From The Cross in the End-Times

The Perilous Times of Timothy

The perilous times of Timothy present another scriptural inconsistency with a pretribulation rapture scenario.  Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:1: “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.”

At the time of this epistle, Timothy is not a tribulation saint as understood in our modern times.  Timothy is not a member of a distinctive group of people who will be left behind after the rapture occurs.  Timothy is a member of the one and only main body of the Christian church in existence when Paul wrote Timothy this letter.  In the first century, there is no division between Christians in-good-standing and some future, soon-to-be converted group of post-rapture tribulation saints.  Within the contemplation of Paul and the early church, there is no conception of something called a post-rapture tribulation saint.

Timothy is half Gentile and half Hebrew.  Timothy’s father is a Greek, and his mother is a Jew (Acts 16:1).  Yet in this address to Timothy by Paul, who understood better than anyone the subtle nuances between New Testament Gentile and Jew (Gal. 2:11-19), we see not the slightest hint of any dispensational differentiation by Paul in the practical application of this 2 Timothy 3:1 end-times prophesy, regarding this dual nature of Timothy.  If the question of a divided application of end-times prophetic scriptures to church-age Gentiles and Messianic Christian Jews, before and after a rapture, was ever to be addressed within the Bible…assuming such a question existed…surely we would think this was an excellent opportunity for Paul to clear up confusion and establish sound doctrine in applying end-times prophecies to his close friend and protégé Timothy, having the combined dual ancestry of Gentile and Jew.

If the rapture occurs in the first century, then Timothy will be raptured.  If the rapture occurs in Timothy’s lifetime, he will be one of those taken as described in Matthew 24:40-41.  Yet Paul addresses this particular end-times prophecy to Timothy, as if Timothy is in fact a tribulation saint.  Whatever Paul is referring to as “perilous times”, they directly apply to Timothy.  These perilous times do not leap-frog over Timothy one generation to a future group of first century people unsaved at that time, who would become converted to Christianity as a result of discovering they were left behind after the rapture.  Paul’s prophecy is aimed directly and squarely at Timothy, a born-again, Spirit-filled, first-century Christian.  If Timothy is a scripturally viable rapture candidate, then according to Paul’s prophecy here, Timothy is apparently also a scripturally viable candidate to experience perilous end-times.

Because these uniquely perilous times did not actually occur during Timothy’s lifetime, this prophecy in its composite form has continued by extension to each and every succeeding generation of Christians down to our present time.  Nowhere in scripture does it allow us to insert a discontinuous break in the application of this prophecy, merely because it was written so long ago.  This warning of Paul to Timothy, applies to us today as if Paul were here now speaking to us in person.

If this prophecy referred to a future period of time immediately after Timothy was raptured, yet with a post-rapture first century world still in place, then Paul’s sentence does not make much sense.  This prophecy is directed toward the one and only full-sized Christian church that was on the earth at the time of Paul, because Paul was writing this warning to Timothy, a younger contemporary of Paul as a future reference and guide toward an upcoming actual time in Timothy’s life.  By continuous extension, this as-yet-unfulfilled prophetic warning similarly applies with all of its force to the contemporary Christian church on the earth today.

For the unbeliever, there is no such thing as a non-perilous time.  Living on the edge of dying in sin, and passing on into an eternity in hell, is always perilous.  How can the last days become any more perilous for the unbeliever than normal times?  Again, in this 2 Timothy 3:1 verse, Paul says that “perilous times shall come.”  If people say that these perilous times for unbelievers refer to receiving the mark of the beast, then this places the perilous times described by Paul for Timothy right in the middle of the period of the Antichrist.

We cannot have it both ways.  Timothy, the first-century church, and Paul’s perilous times all go together.  If Timothy is on the scene for the perilous times foretold by Paul, then the times must be perilous for somebody, otherwise they would not in fact be perilous.  If Timothy is to be raptured as one of the faithful in his lifetime as anticipated by the early church, yet also experience perilous times, then the rapture slices up these perilous times into two parts.  Some portion of Paul’s perilous times, unspecified in length, must occur before Timothy is raptured.  Otherwise Timothy is not physically present for these perilous times, and Paul is directing his warning to the wrong person.

Conversely, if the times are unusually perilous for unbelievers because of the presence on earth of the Antichrist, then Timothy is alive on earth for some portion of this same period of time, because Paul addresses this prophecy to Timothy.  If the times are also unusually and noticeably perilous for Christians sharing the gospel message, then what possible change in the outward world environment would create this to the extreme point that Paul would address this issue in a letter to Timothy, other than some singularly calamitous cascade of events leading up to the tribulation, or the actual momentous tribulation period itself?

Another reason why I do not believe that the rapture will occur at the beginning of the tribulation period, is that Daniel’s seven-year tribulation is the final period of time for everything in terms of the old world system.  When the time finally comes that there are only seven years of human earthly history remaining, it would certainly be imperative and incumbent upon God to shake-up the world as described in the book of Revelation.

The reasons behind this shake-up are two-fold, and they are enormous.  The first reason is that God would not want the last generation of unbelievers, with only seven years remaining on the clock, to be mistakenly focused on the non-essentials like what color to paint the kitchen, or whether to buy or lease our next automobile, or which college law school our granddaughter should apply to.  These otherwise legitimate life issues today would be rendered entirely superfluous by virtue of the short end-times period remaining on the earth.

The second reason for a major shake-up by God as described in end-times biblical prophecy is to demonstrate that the Antichrist, posing as the messiah and savior of the world using fair speech, lofty promises, and intimidating threats, is in fact a worthless counterfeit god-man…an imposter who cannot control the catastrophic natural events or the health related judgment plagues that will be occurring in the world.

Only the real God can supernaturally intervene in our natural world.  The catastrophic magnitude of the events occurring on the planet during the tribulation would be God’s unselfish and loving way of exposing the lie and the emptiness of the high sounding speech of the Antichrist.  This would be God’s final, emphatic, and unambiguous attempt to capture the attention of the last inhabitants on this planet as to the truly fragile nature of our existence and the genuine reality of our dependence on our Creator God.

At issue is the fundamental difference between “self-made men and women” and “God-made men and women”… which has been at the center of the debate in God’s outreach throughout human redemptive history.  The tribulation period is an environment of imposed dependence upon God for temporary physical and eternal spiritual survival, and forces a decision for or against God upon every inhabitant on the earth.  When the time comes that there are only seven years of time remaining, there is no point to God holding back or moderating His final appeal to mankind.

The End-Times 2

From The Cross in the End-Times

There must be some motivating rationale for the whole world hating Christians as described in Matthew 24:9 “Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you; and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.”  This scripture cannot be addressed to the early Christian church, because the next verse says “And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another” (Mt. 24:10).

This did not occur among Christians in the first three centuries.  History tells us for the most part, at least up until the Decian persecution of 250 A.D. and the Great Persecution of Diocletian from 303 to 313 A.D., that Christians remained faithful to one another during the periods of intense persecution under the Roman emperors.  The bonds of friendship, loyalty, and love between Christians often grew stronger during times of persecution.

This backdrop provides historical context for a critique of one important cross-related scriptural problem with the concept that the Christian church will be raptured pretribulation.

Some Problems with a Pretribulation Timed Rapture

In my view, one difficulty with the concept of the timing of the rapture occurring at the beginning of Daniel’s seven-year tribulation period is an extension of the Matthew 24:9-10 verses mentioned above: “Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you; and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.  And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.”  My conception of the tribulation saints (those Christians converted after the rapture), are as a tightly focused group of believers totally dedicated to their last chance at serving Jesus Christ unconditionally (having missed the rapture).

This would be the case whether they have exclusive domain over the last remaining evangelical outreach on earth for all seven, six, five, four, three, or even the final two years during Daniel’s seven-year tribulation period.  This would be the case regardless of the makeup of the tribulation saints…Gentiles and Messianic Jewish Christians

This hard-core group of tribulation saints does not seem susceptible to large numbers of them being offended as a result of persecution (Mt. 13:21), or betraying other tribulation saints, or hating each other.  These prophetic words of Jesus Christ would only seem to apply instead to a large, widely mixed group of born-again Christians who had in their numbers a sizable percentage of nominal, unconverted adherents who could easily fall into becoming offended, betraying real Christians, and living in an attitude of hatred and disappointment as a result of the end-times evil (Mt. 24:7-13).

This would more accurately describe the required blend of the genuine Christian church, combined with the apostate church, which we see in the world today, and which would appear transparently inseparable and indistinguishable to the undiscerning secular world before the start of the last day’s persecution and tribulation.  This would be more consistent with Matthew 24:10 saying “then many shall be offended”, implying that there is a large enough beginning sample of people for many to be offended, and conversely for many genuine Christians not to be offended, to comprise the whole group.  This would also set up the basis for a clearer understanding of the falling away (2 Thes. 2:3).

The tribulation saints by contrast, whether Jew or Gentile, would be almost exactly like the Christians of the first two and one-half centuries in terms of fidelity to Jesus Christ.  They would be entirely new converts to Christ, narrowly focused on their mission, uniformly dedicated, fearless, committed, fiercely loyal to one another, and living with the constant threat of discovery, exposure, and imminent martyrdom.  If this is the case, then these Matthew 24:9-10 verses would therefore appear to be inconsistent with the currently popular teaching of an early rapture of the church prior to the full seven-year-tribulation-scenario.  If these Matthew 24:9-10 verses occur within the time-span of  the seven-year tribulation period of great persecution of Christians, and the only new Christians formed after a pretribulation rapture are this group of tribulation saints…who are not plausible candidates for betraying and hating one another…then something here is clearly amiss.

The dispensational approach has newly converted Jews as a main contingent of the post-rapture tribulation saints who evangelize the world.  But this formulation is inconsistent with Matthew 24:10 which expressly states that many will be offended and hate one another.  This cannot apply to newly converted Jewish-Christian believers, converted by as-yet unknown supernatural revelations of Jesus Christ to Jews worldwide similar to Joseph in Egypt revealing himself to his brethren.  The revelation that Jesus Christ is not just a God of the Gentiles but is in fact their long promised messiah, will engender the most dedicated fidelity to the gospel message of Christ soaring above any persecution that would cause others to become offended.

After a pretribulation rapture, there would not be a blended mixture of hard-core tribulation saints in close association with nominal adherents in a worshipping fellowship.  There would be nothing in common between these two groups after the rapture to bring them together in fellowship.  After the rapture, whenever it occurs, the tribulation saints from then-on-after will be a distinct and isolated group notable for their purity, zeal, commitment, and dedication of purpose.  The required diverse combination of a large number of genuine Christians mixed with a large number of nominal churchgoers…for Matthew 24:9-10 to occur…will simply not exist after a world-emptying pretribulation rapture taking all Spirit-born Christians off the earth.

Therefore, either there is some extremely intense persecution occurring pretribulation for the main Christian church prior to the rapture, causing this dissension and culling-out within the “mixed multitude”, or conversely the continuous uninterrupted existence on earth of the combined main body of the Christian church plus the apostate church, extends and overlaps into the tribulation period itself for some period of time.

Some large group of people (“many”) identified in these biblical verses must betray and hate other people in the group, for this very specific and unambiguous prophecy to be fulfilled.  The persecution that causes this internal dissension, and the large group of people who break-away to become disloyally offended and hateful, must both be in-place at the same time period.

If the hard-core, last-chance group of tribulation saints would probably not be the people to react this way to the life-and-death trials of the end-times, then it is logical to conclude that these verses apply to a time period when a large mixed group of people in the Christian church and in the apostate church are still together.  This then pushes the rapture forward into and beyond the tribulation starting point for some unspecified period of time having this intense persecution and tribulation, which would trigger the events as described in Matthew 24:9-10.

If tribulation saints are not plausible candidates for consideration as the uncommitted people who will fall away to betray and hate one another during the end-times persecution…and since Matthew 24:10 specifically says that many shall be offended…then some of the pieces of the pretribulation rapture puzzle are not fitting together here.  Toss in a large group of fiercely loyal newly converted Jewish Christians into the mix, and the rapture cannot plausibly occur at the beginning of the great tribulation.

A mixed mass of people and a period of persecution must be a couplet linked together concurrently…on one or the other side of both the rapture and the tribulation.  The rapture removes the Christian church, leaving only the future, newly converted die-hard tribulation saints.  Persecution sifts out and divides the offended from the un-offended.  The events of both the rapture and some form of persecution divide the same identical large body of people into two distinct halves…those raptured and those not raptured…and those offended and those not offended.  Intense, sifting-out persecution cannot overtake a main Christian church raptured away into heaven, isolated forever from nominal churchgoers on earth.  It would therefore appear that a large disparate body of people and an intense period of persecution must be together…either before or after the rapture.

This means that either persecution shifts backwards in time, before the church is raptured, affecting both the genuine church and the apostate church together in time as one large group.  Or this requires the presence on earth of the genuine church combined with the apostate church…as one large group…shifting forward in time into persecution/tribulation.  The unique nature of the resiliency, steadfastness, and narrowly committed exclusivity of the group of people called tribulation saints, who are probably not susceptible to many betraying and hating each other, is an important key to our understanding of the timing of the rapture.

It appears then that the rapture cannot occur in isolation.  The rapture cannot occur outside of a close relationship to an intense level of end-times persecution and tribulation…that would be so great as to noticeably split the “church” in two…as described in Matthew 24:9-10.  After the rapture…after the close of the church age, the only Christians remaining on earth to the end of time are newly converted post-tribulation saints, and they do not fit into the description of potentially offended people and the events of Matthew 24:9-10.  After the rapture, tribulation saints are not susceptible to becoming offended by persecution or adversity (Mt. 13:21).  To fulfill Matthew 24:9-10, an unprecedented level of intense persecution has to find and overtake the main Christian church for some period of time before the rapture occurs, and one solution to this riddle is for the rapture itself to shift forward in time…into the tribulation.

If a satisfactory alternate explanation is to move some intense period of persecution into the time slot preceding the start of the tribulation, then why go to such dispensational premillennial efforts to sustain a pretribulation rapture interpretation?  The intensity of a sifting-out split of the “church” through worldwide persecution (Mt. 24:9-10) is equivalent to the magnitude of the actual great tribulation itself.  Sparing the Christian church from tribulation then loses its meaning, purpose, and appeal.

The End-Times 1

From The Cross in the End-Times

“Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is there anything too hard for me?”                                                                                                                       (Jer. 32:26)

During the first few centuries of the Christian faith, believers were subjected to periods of intense persecutions within the Roman Empire that were designed by Lucifer to wipe out Christianity.  To be a Christian during these times often meant arrest and brief imprisonment, shortly followed by martyrdom.  New converts to the Christian faith lived under the threat of having only a few years or even months to enjoy a walk of faith before they were captured by the authorities and given the option of renouncing their faith or suffering the consequences.

History tells us that the steadfastness and courage of the small but resolute Christian communities that were scattered throughout the Roman Empire during these times of persecution, won converts among the populace who admired the resolute demonstration of the Christian’s convictions compared to the emptiness of their own polytheistic religions based upon idol worship and mythology.

One of the effective lies that Lucifer concocted against Christians in these first centuries was the idea that the troubles and problems these societies were facing were caused in part by the stubborn refusal of the Christians to worship the pantheon of pagan gods that everyone else accepted and worshipped.  The authorities often used the Christians as convenient scape-goats to blame all sorts of government and social problems on.  The Emperor Nero blamed the great fire in Rome on the Christians.  The Christian communion service or “love feast”…as it was sometimes called…was slandered as a form of cannibalism.  Christians were seen by the authorities as social outsiders who did not attend the temple services and thus brought down the disfavor of the gods upon their societies.

The real truth was that, apart from not participating in the temple services to worship pagan gods, the Christians were among the most law abiding and peaceable citizens in all of the Roman Empire.  History records that Christians were actually known within their small communities as being sociably charitable to needy non-Christian strangers and Christians alike, and to women and children, without prejudice.  This unselfish character trait, exhibiting the love of Jesus Christ, enabled Christians to stand-out favorably among the people who personally knew them, but did not unfortunately dissuade in any way the impersonal condemnation and persecution by the official government authorities.

The question may reasonably be asked, did not God love these early Christians who were crucified, burned at the stake, forced to fight gladiators, and killed by wild beasts in coliseum arenas throughout the empire at various times during the first three centuries of the faith?  This is an area where the world has no understanding or concept of the Christian experience.  These early Christians, some newborn to the faith for only a short time, thought it a privilege to suffer and die for the Savior who had given His life on the cross for them (Acts 5:41).  They knew without a doubt that Jesus was the Son of God and Savior of the world, and could not dream of renouncing Him before the Roman authorities or pagan temple priests to save their lives.

And the early Christians would not compromise the exclusivity of their allegiance to Jesus Christ alone.  They would not agree to the very reasonable (from a conventional worldly standpoint) request of the authorities to worship and honor the pagan gods along with Christ.  The forgiveness of their sins and the new born-again spiritual life they enjoyed were of more value to the early Christian than anything else on earth.

This stubborn adherence to their Christian faith was incomprehensible to the worldly Greek/Roman culture of that day.  Christians sang songs of praise to God with uplifted arms as lions and tigers were unleashed upon them in the coliseum arena.  Brave Christian men came out during the daytime to walk the streets of Rome, risking capture and certain death in the arena, to procure provisions for the people living under the city in the catacombs.  This sometimes went on for periods of years during the great persecutions, during the reigns of some of the Roman emperors.  All of this is actual recorded history.  We can visit the Coliseum and the catacombs in Rome today.

We do not fully understand why God allowed the life-plans of many of these early-century Christians to be so short-lived and to end in violent deaths.  These Christians apparently had enough internal peace and the courage of their convictions to stand up and proclaim their faith against the onslaught of the entire Roman Empire.  What if they had caved-in to the pressures of death in the arena, and considered their lives here on earth more important than standing up for their faith in the face of such relentless persecution?  The answer is that the Christian faith may not have survived.

With deadly precision Lucifer knew who to single out as scapegoats, because he knows who the children of light are.  The Roman Empire did not aimlessly waste its time persecuting groups of people like the Macedonians, or Egyptians, or Spaniards, because these people belonged in good standing to the everyday worldly empire of greed, selfishness, ambition, and sinful pleasure that Lucifer controls.  The early Christians were persecuted because they were the New Testament church…the light of the world (Mt. 5:16)…the Bride of Christ.

If Lucifer could get the early church to implode through persecution, he might impede or stop altogether the spiritual progress God was making in the world.  If Lucifer could not defeat Jesus at Gethsemane and Calvary, he might defeat God through these early Christians by intimidation and fear.  But God countered this evil strategy of Lucifer by empowering the unwavering and steadfast witness of the Christian’s faith in the face of this persecution.  Today we (in the wealthy and developed nations of the world) look back at the faithfulness of these early Christians with pride and celebration, yet their uncompromising courage and faith are difficult for us to relate to in our present-day, more normal pursuit of a peaceful and productive life.

If the modern-day Christian church is not raptured pretribulation, and experiences persecution in the last days, Lucifer may pull out of his bag of lies this old lie that worked so well against Christians in the first centuries of the faith.  Christians may again be unjustly blamed for the problems of the world, this time by refusing to go along with everyone else and accept the mark of the beast.  This acceptance of the mark of the beast will be considered so reasonable and sensible by the world, in order to solve whatever political or economic problems exist at that time that the stubborn refusal of Christians to go along will again be viewed as anti-social and subversive.

The mark of the beast will be a fallen, corrupted, worldly counterfeit version of the true spiritual unity between believers when we are “in Christ.”  The Christian’s discerning choice of the higher unity of the bond of the Spirit in love, and the rejection of the lower worldly counterfeit solution of the mark of the beast established through coercion and threats, will not be understood nor embraced by the world.

Mixing Fact with Fiction 3

From The Cross in the End-Times

The end-times revelation of God is not that the church will be raptured pretribulation, but that the mystery of iniquity will be exposed through the latter-rain preaching of Spirit-empowered Joel 2:28-29 Christians and Holy Spirit engineered events.  It is the added push of the Spirit poured out upon all flesh in the world that is the element that takes our understanding and our facility with the pin-point accurate truth of the gospel, to a level of power and boldness equal to or beyond that experienced in the early church.

A critical point in this discussion is that only God could engineer salvation out of the negative rejection, incomprehension, and unbelief of mankind in first-century Israel and the contemporary Greco-Roman world.  Redemption from sin through the atonement of the cross of Calvary is counter-intuitive to conventional thinking at the extreme limits of reality of any type or kind whatsoever…divine or humanistic (Isa. 53).  The sheer originality of the cross and the resurrection of Jesus are beyond the reach of human creative literary imagination, composed within the puzzling, humanly unimaginable context of deadly rejection and ignorant unbelief.

The scenario of the cross and resurrection is validated as true because it passes the stringent test of containing the very real risk of falsification.  During that last fateful week in Jerusalem the religious authorities might not have been offended enough to condemn Jesus at all.  That God could imagine, compose, and orchestrate all of the remarkable events surrounding the crucifixion and resurrection of the Son of God, having it all make both profoundly inspired sense and having eternally beneficial practical application for untold millions of people, is a testament to the creative genius of God far above our own human literary skill-sets.

The fact that no one at the time understood the direction and purpose of the cross and the resurrection (Jn. 19:40; Mt. 27:63; Lk. 22:62, 24:1, 24:21), raises the entire redemption scenario above humanistic creative invention, validating God as its divine author.  This concept has huge apologetic value.  And this concept is critical to reaching a balanced understanding of the extent of God’s revelation regarding end-times prophecy today.

No mere human writer could or would invent the Roman crucifixion of Jesus Christ at the instigation of the Jerusalem religious leaders, producing a divine atonement for the shortcomings of the human race funneled through the inconceivably tight circumstances of the messianic expectations in first-century Israel.  When the upcoming end-times are over, God may look back in hindsight and say to last-days Christians: “good effort trying to figure it all out-ahead-of-time, but none of you were entirely right.”

In my opinion, the issues to divide at the end of redemptive history are too subtle and too important for anyone other than God to sort out.  To thoroughly expose the “man of sin…the son of perdition” (2 Thes. 2:3) along with the underlying ill-effects of sin will take the creative skills of God Almighty, to match the brilliant life-script of Jesus of Nazareth in the first century.  In the uniquely singular case of the redemptive atonement of Jesus Christ in first-century Israel, the magnitude of the event required that it be seen in hindsight as the complete and total workmanship of God, outside of full human understanding in-the-moment.

Although we have great promises given to us throughout scripture (Dan. 2:3; Mt. 24:14, 25:2; Jn. 16:13; 1 Thes. 5:4; Rev. 12:11) regarding the awareness we will have as Christians in the end-times, the spiritual vehicle of a journey of faith repeated throughout the narrative stories of faith reveal God’s methodology for unveiling truth in-the-moment, or in hindsight looking backwards, within carefully crafted life events.  Even though Abraham, Joseph, David, Peter, Paul, and many others in the Bible had foreknowledge regarding upcoming events in their lives through very specific promises of God, the overriding and controlling experience is summed up in the scripture “for we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7).

This vital element of picking up our cross and following God should at least be a factor we include in our calculus of end-times prophecy interpretation, and in our careful evaluation of the propriety of prematurely crafting an end-times scenario of events from beginning to end that imports fictional embellishment into the biblical record.

For me, the pretribulation rapture scenario has the look and feel of a humanistically optimistic interpretation overlaid on top of end-time biblical prophecy.  It scrubs away the very means and methods of God’s creative imagination in prepping His followers for eternity, by removing the adventure of faith experience out of the current environment of this broken world at the most critical time…the end-times tribulation period.

My starting paradigm for interpreting end-times biblical prophecy is the cross as portrayed in the narrative stories of faith in the Bible.  The cross bias for interpretation is a big picture, macro-view of the Bible.  The cross bias sees a diverse mix of narrative stories, psalms, prophecy, and principles/precepts imaginatively designed to provide wisdom, knowledge, and encouragement to multitudes of differing personalities, time periods, cultures, and personal challenges.

In God’s program, the personal cost to each of the biblical contributors has benefits to other people down through the ages on a colossal scale.  The brilliantly guided sacrifices of others in the past are expertly woven together in a biblical document having comprehensive and universal outreach, validating the divine authorship of the Bible in a way that stretches its message beyond the reach of human imagination and literary creativity.

One overriding theme of the Bible is that God’s ways are higher, and His plans are bigger than we can imagine.  The pursuit of a life “in Christ” through the cross, is intentionally counter to and outside of the reach of worldly conventional thinking in the strongest and most profound way.  Picking up our cross and following Jesus in whatever endeavor and direction He leads us, is by intentional design at the edge of human appreciation and imagination.

This is one reason why I believe the cross has been missed in the end-times biblical prophecy discussion, and why it needs to be factored in as a key element in our understanding of upcoming events in the lives of individual Christians and the Christian church.

Mixing Fact with Fiction 2

From The Cross in the End-Times

One of the classic contemporary questions for the modern-day Christian church to resolve as we approach the end-times is what methods combine purity with effectiveness in our evangelical outreach to the world?  This is one of the central issues currently being tested, considered, and debated regarding quality versus quantity in the church growth movement.

In adopting the popular approach, in crafting a book series along the lines of a Ludlum, Follett, Clancy, Cussler, or DeMille adventure or spy novel, the Christian experience as portrayed in the Left Behind books often moves away from the uniquely biblical, supernatural storylines of total dependence upon God toward the more conventionally identifiable portrait of exceptional human capabilities and personalities winning the day.  A hybrid compromise is thereby created.

Following the Left Behind model, one gets the sense that Peter and the other apostles in the New Testament would plot and plan all Thursday night to successfully carry out a daring Friday morning rescue of Jesus as He is being led to His hearing before Pilate, using cleverly deceptive disguises, counterfeit identifications, fast getaway horses, and a secure hideaway.

As captivating, thrilling, and engrossing as the Left Behind books are, the means-and-methods of the Left Behind main characters are too worldly conventional to fit comfortably within the actual pages of the book of Revelation tribulation storyline as it will probably unfold.  This may seem on the surface like a minor distinction without much of a difference, but it really isn’t.  The depth of the supernaturally creative participation of God in our lives, which makes genuine Christianity vastly different from all other human experience, lies at the very heart of Daniel’s seven-year tribulation prophecy.

To make them interesting and believable in an adventure novel setting, the main characters in Left Behind are too worldly accomplished, too worldly successful, too worldly talented to be numbered among the twelve apostles, the Old Testament prophets, or the other great characters of the Bible (Dt. 7:6-7).  Like James Bond, Dirk Pitt, Jason Bourne, and Jack Ryan, these fictional Left Behind characters are larger-than-life in a worldly conventional sense.

To make them interesting and to capture our imagination, these Left Behind characters are a world-class airline pilot, the world’s best journalist, the world’s most knowledgeable Bible scholar, a Nobel prize-winning botanist, a beautifully attractive woman caught up in the snare of the Antichrist’s deceptively romantic allurement, the world’s most accomplished underground disguise artist, the world’s best computer experts, one of the world’s foremost black-marketers, and a brilliant and beautiful  young woman in her twenties flawlessly managing an underground, world-wide food distribution co-operative.

Even though people like Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Samuel, Daniel, Gideon, Esther and Mordecai, Nehemiah, Ezra, Peter, Paul, Philip, and Luke obviously have the innate potential to grow into their individual God-composed and guided callings, it is the supernatural aspects of their storylines that puts their eventual spiritual success and character growth beyond the reach of human accomplishment alone.  The underlying purpose behind a biblical journey of faith cancels out self-reliance and self-sufficiency (Jud. 7:2).  This is one of the main themes of the Bible and the demarcation line between the natural man and the spiritual man.  The cross applied to our lives is the solvent that dissolves away sin, and opens up the way for God to supernaturally act in and through us.

What all of this is telling us is something we already know, if we have personal familiarity with a Spirit-led journey of faith.  What this tells us is that human beings are incapable of composing divine storylines like God does as recorded in the Bible, or as He does in our Christian lives.  The cross applied to our lives is inaccessible to human intellect apart from a God-inspired and composed journey of faith.

Human authors, even at the talent level of a Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy, William Shakespeare, or in this case Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, all hit the glass ceiling of the limitations of human conventional thinking.  I love the Left Behind books and movies.  I have read all twelve volumes of the Left Behind series, cover-to-cover three times.  I will probably read them again sometime in the near future.  I love the adventure, the characters, and the way that various people come to salvation faith.

But the Left Behind books and movies unwittingly answer the important question raised earlier about the most effective way to reach the world with the gospel.  Even when great writers attempt to popularize something that will be as supernatural as the end-times tribulation period occurring at the end of human redemptive history, the limitations of everyone’s ability to step into the large creative shoes of God and foresee the future in terms of God’s higher unconventional ways, are exposed.

We unquestionably have the creative license to write fictional Christian romances and tales composed around inspiring everyday experiences of God acting in our lives.  Does this same literary license extend to the genre of end-times biblical prophecy?  Have the writers of the Left Behind books crossed over the line of spiritual propriety in composing a complete depiction of the upcoming end-times, when God’s own revelation in scripture is purposely intended to be partial and incomplete?  There is a difference between the creative license to use fiction to describe Christian everyday experience, such as John Bunyan used in The Pilgrim’s Progress, compared to the creative license of presuming to be able to extrapolate a particular eschatological viewpoint into a complete, partly fictionalized narrative of the entire biblical end-times scenario.

If the Left Behind construction of events is entirely accurate, then Lucifer is now fully informed as to what lies ahead.  But if the Left Behind construction of events is not entirely accurate, why are we relying upon something for our end-times prophecy interpretation that is not truly definitive?  Does the need to stretch the biblical end-times revelation with fiction in order to connect all of the dots to fit within the medium of the modern adventure novel format, excuse the necessity to morph this fiction into a hybrid mixture of unreal characters and storylines that are no longer purely biblical in nature?  Is the initial concept of mixing end-times biblical prophecy with adventure novel fiction, because of the inherent serious nature of the subject matter, a misguided enterprise from the outset?

Would the creation of four or five competing 12-volume literary works representing the other eschatology viewpoints, enlisting writers of the quality of a Ludlum, Clancy, DeMille, Cussler, or Follett, and likewise utilizing an exciting and suspense-filled action adventure format, edify or detract from the biblical end-times prophecy discussion?  This unquestionably would make for some additional, entertaining late-night and weekend reading.  I would love to read Clive Cussler’s or Ken Follett’s account of Christians walking through walls or de-materializing like Philip (Acts 8:39) to escape from enemies, or pulling apples out of the thin air for food, according to the end-times interpretation of many Christians that God will supernaturally shelter His church in a wilderness type protective setting.

But would this fictional adventure novel approach result in a furtherance of Paul’s insightful self-revelation of the power-position of being worldly last as a servant in God’s gospel outreach to mankind (1 Corinthians 4:9)?  Or would this approach result in a worldly diluted compromise of the supernatural, unimaginably higher activities of God during the upcoming tribulation, after the pattern already revealed in the works of God portrayed in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible?

Is the carefully premeditated and balanced extent of God’s revelation of upcoming end-times events God’s way of saying “hands-off” in this one area of inspired biblical revelation?  Are we walking along the dangerous edge of a precipice when we attempt to promote a particular biblical ideology by using the literary device of the adventure novel to articulate our views?  Do we want to leave Christian and non-Christian readers with the faith-based view of the Apostle Paul displaying the humility level that will produce genuine Holy Spirit power for Joel 2:28-29 type service, or do we want to leave readers with the entertaining but unrealistic fiction-based view of Christians jet-setting all over the planet to rescue one another in conformity to a high-energy, Clive Cussler style adventure novel?  With all of the communication tools available to the modern Christian church, this is a question that all Christians will have to divide, separate, and answer for themselves.

Mixing Fact with Fiction 1

From The Cross in the End-Times 

“For we have not followed cunningly devised fables when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty.”                                                                                                           (Pet. 1:16)

One of the reasons that the main characters in the Left Behind books resemble the fictional characters Jack Ryan in a Tom Clancy spy thriller, Jason Bourne in a Robert Ludlum novel, or Dirk Pitt in a Clive Cussler adventure novel, more than the biblical characters of Gideon, Samuel, Elijah, or Daniel, for example, is that most of the supernatural fine details of the events of the last days are still locked safely within the mind of God.  One of the reasons why the Left Behind book series volume number ten has people from all over the world inquiring about salvation using the very conventional means of connecting with internet councilors located in a computer command center in the ancient city of Petra, is that we currently cannot imagine all of the actual working out of the fine details of God’s upcoming end-times plans.

We cannot anticipate from our limited human perspective the supernatural biblical-style events like the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2), or Peter’s preaching to the multitudes after the healing of the crippled man at the entrance to the Temple (Acts 3:12-26), or Stephen’s Spirit-anointed and thoroughly self-abandoned outreach in divine love to the Sanhedrin (Acts 7:2-53).  We cannot envision ahead of time the Holy Spirit being poured out upon Cornelius the Roman centurion and his Gentile friends (Acts 10:44-48), or the Holy Spirit being poured out upon “certain disciples” upon meeting Paul in Ephesus (Acts 19:1-7), or the Spirit utilizing intense persecution in Jerusalem to send out the first Christian missionaries “scattered abroad” to personally spread the gospel message according to Acts 8:4.

In my opinion, one of the reasons why the Left Behind books has its main characters courageously saving fellow believers out of danger all over the world using conventional, adventure-novel style methods is that we do not currently know all of God’s finely detailed plans yet.  The reason why Lear jets, masterful disguises, and cleverly crafted rescue strategies are used in the Left Behind books rather than the supernatural biblical storylines of an angel rescuing Peter out of prison in the middle of the night (Acts 12:5-19), or Jesus standing beside the three young Hebrews in the fiery furnace (Dan. 3:25), or God protecting Daniel in the lion’s den (Dan. 6:23), is that we do not know all of God’s specific higher ways yet as applied to the end-times tribulation period.

Attempting to recreate the entire end-times tribulation storyline using biblical prophecy with added fiction to fill-in the missing details is a difficult task in a book series like Left Behind.  The seven-year tribulation will be filled with supernatural events beyond our current imagination, and beyond what can be revealed in great detail within the scope and broad outlines of the biblical end-times prophecies so far.

Accurately depicting the upcoming tribulation events ahead-of-time would be like trying to fictionalize beforehand the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt while Moses is walking with Aaron toward Egypt prior to their first confrontation with Pharaoh.  The only person in existence at that precise moment who knew in detail what lay ahead in terms of the required supernatural, upcoming events in Egypt was God.  Worldly conventional storylines filled with adventure-novel suspense, and larger-than-life fictional characters, are used by necessity and by default in the Left Behind book series, because of everyone’s current ignorance of God’s upcoming very specific and exhaustively detailed supernatural intentions.

No one but God knew in advance about God’s creative military strategy for Gideon to defeat the invading Midianites.  No one except God knew far in advance about God’s creative idea for Joshua to bring down the walls of Jericho.  No one knew until that very moment that God would honor Joshua’s request to temporarily hold back the sun’s progress across the sky until the army of Israel could defeat the enemy.  No one but God knew, far out in advance, that God could provide fresh drinking water out of barren rocks in the desert, or provide manna from heaven for the sustenance of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness for forty years.

No one knew weeks or months beforehand that God would part the Red Sea.  No one knew beforehand that the Son of God, along with two angels, would pay a personal visit to Abraham and Sarah to announce to them the upcoming conception of their son Isaac.  No one had the slightest idea in advance, other than God, that someone like Joseph of Arimathaea would unexpectedly approach Pilate regarding the disposition of the dead body of Jesus.  No one understood beforehand, except possibly John the Baptist (Jn. 1:29), or Simeon and Anna in the Temple (Lk. 2:25-38), that salvation would come to mankind through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ the Son of God through a partial-only first-advent fulfillment of the messianic prophecies, that would divide, separate, and offend a large portion of the Jews at that time.

Absolutely no one understood the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ ahead of time, as evidenced by the actions of everyone around Jesus.  Even with all of the Old Testament messianic prophecies so clear to us today in hindsight…the ancient Jewish practice of blood atonement for sin…and the straightforward disclosure of Jesus to the disciples of His upcoming death and resurrection weeks ahead of time, no one at the time understood the divinely creative novelty of the cross and the resurrection until after the actual events transpired.  This should at the least give us pause as we consider the enterprise of attempting to construct an end-times scenario of events from start to finish.

Worthy to Escape 2

From The Cross in the End-Times

I believe that pretribulation raptured Christians would rather be numbered among the “called, and chosen, and faithful” of Revelation 17:14, to be in the frontlines of the battle rather than possibly forever being labeled as rear echelon soldiers raptured merely because they were Spirit-born.  I believe that the last-days Christian church would rather be trained for world-class quality spiritual warfare and go into battle to be honorably spent in committed service to Jesus Christ.  I believe we would all like to avoid the status of forever being considered untested and untried, amidst the innumerable company of overcoming saints and angels who have gone before us (Heb. 12:22-23).  I believe that every Christian would like to experience the thrill of being Holy Spirit empowered in the last days, with self-astonishing Christ-like character in action.

Christians today need to think critically about this notion that the rapture occurring before the start of the tribulation would bring a sense of fulfillment, finality, and closure to their journey of faith.  The white-robed multitudes coming out of the “great tribulation” of Revelation 7:14, those who maintained the word of their testimony of Revelation 12:11, and the saints of Revelation 14:12 who through patience keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus, all have the sense of being conquerors and overcomers.  The faithful men and women identified in these last-days prophetic scriptures have not the slightest hint of incompleteness or partial fulfillment of their heavenly calling, of being pulled out of the game too soon.

I believe there are currently millions of Christians on the earth today who, if given their preference, instead of being immediately raptured today, would rather continue for a few more weeks, months, or even a year or two longer to complete the ministry-in-progress that God has given them.  I believe there are tens of millions of Christians on the earth today, who for whatever reason are not engaged in committed Christian service, who would appreciate one last opportunity to be mightily used of God, under the power of the Holy Spirit as prophesied will be poured out in the last days (Joel 2:28-29), for one, two, three, four, or even five years into the tribulation, before they are raptured or martyred for all time into heaven.

I believe that every born-again Christian, if they had all of the various alternatives explained to them in terms of their eternal import, would choose the fullness of the cross experience through the tribulation if it meant the possibility of converting additional family members, friends, and neighbors to salvation quality faith in Jesus Christ, despite whatever the continued personal cost and hardship to themselves.

I do not believe that Christians have to accept uncritically the viewpoint that it is the only healthy, sane, and rational choice to want to be spared the tribulation.  We are not obligated, as an article of faith, to accept this teaching.  An early exit is not the only and obvious choice here.  Being spared trials, struggles, and tribulation is not the normal biblical pattern.  So what if Christians live under the threat of death during the tribulation for spreading the gospel message of good news?  The apostles lived daily through the persecution and tribulation of the first century, and experienced martyr’s deaths.  The New Testament scriptures and the New Testament church were born out of persecution and tribulation (Acts 14:22).

Why would we think it would be any different for the end-times church, successfully engaged in Joel 2:28-29 evangelism, for at least some portion of the tribulation?  Luke 21:36, 1 Thessalonians 1:10, and 5:9 can just as accurately apply to some point in time part-way through the seven-year tribulation, as they might apply at the beginning of this tribulation period.  The same positive attitude we have in hindsight for the evangelical spirit of the first-century Christians is equally commendable on a going-forward-basis for the end-times Christian church as well.

A curious thing about the Left Behind books and movies is that they tell us that the tribulation period can be a difficult but positive experience for Christians.  Instead of making an air-tight case for a pretribulation rapture, they unintentionally (from a pretribulation advocacy perspective) shed light on the possibility for genuine spiritual growth through shared adversity in confrontation against the Antichrist.  The main characters in these books and movies actually become mature Christian warriors through the experiences of the tribulation, in harmony with the pattern of God beneficially capitalizing on spiritual opposition, revealed in the Bible and as discussed in this book.  This is a common theme we find in every positive character in the Bible.  God-directed and God-managed adversity separates and delivers us from self-sovereignty.

This same proven methodology could conceivably benefit the larger sized main Christian church on a macro-scale just as easily as it could a smaller sized contingent of “tribulation saints”, simply by shifting the rapture forward a few years into the tribulation period.  This would not change the concept of the imminence of the timing of the rapture, or alter the need for watchfulness on the part of Christians.  This would not in any way affect the differentiation between the rapture (1 Cor. 15:51-53) and the Second Coming of Christ (Mt. 24:27).  It simply means that the time gap between these two distinctive events would be shorter than seven years.

Most of the eternal truths we learn in our Christian lives come about through some form of tribulation.  Christians, like everyone else, learn the hard-way through first-hand experience.  If this is true, then the pretribulation rapture teaching may in fact not be biblically sound.  We can’t have it both ways.  The spiritual lessons that can be learned through the trying experiences of the tribulation will benefit someone.  Will it be the main body of the Christian church, as yet un-raptured off the earth at the beginning of the tribulation, or will it be a post-rapture smaller sized group of “tribulation saints?”

One of the great truths of the Bible is that God is in the trial, in the struggle, in the suffering, in the fiery furnace, and in the victory with us.  God the Father did not remove the cup of suffering, the crucifixion as requested by Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.  But God the Father was in the crucifixion and in the resurrection along with Jesus the Son, for the good outcome of salvation and spiritual re-birth for all of mankind.  How can God be in the fiery trial alongside the church during the end-times tribulation, if the main body of the church is not even on the earth?

Without the catastrophic events of the end-times pulling out the rug of false security from underneath the feet of the firmly entrenched contemporary world, combined with the clearly evil worldwide spectacle of the persecution of Christians by the Antichrist, the last remaining stubborn lost sheep at the end of the ages might never re-think their wayward condition, and make their final decision for salvation through Christ.

If the biblical interpretation outlined in this book is accurate, then the Christian church needs to change its mindset quickly.  Preparation for spiritual battle (Eph. 6:13), not preparation for the rapture, needs to be the order of the day.  Christians need to begin an intimate walk of faith with Jesus Christ as our guide now, so that faith and trust in God has a chance to establish deep roots of experience to withstand the storms ahead.

Faith and trust in God, built upon an experiential foundation that contains a genuine element of risk, is one of the most difficult and challenging accomplishments in all of human life.  If the church is not raptured pretribulation, but experiences a portion of the tribulation period working in the final harvest for a few tumultuous years, then the Matthew 7:24-27 verses about building our houses on top of solid rock, with deep foundations, applies as never before.

For the last-days Christian church, I believe the question of spiritual preparedness is one of the great issues of the age that none of us can afford to get wrong.  Christians need to come to know their God on a very personal level now.