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.