2) The Destiny Of The Three Components Of Humanity: The Nations (aka Gentiles), Israel, And The Church
Even so-called experts misinterpret prophecy when they don’t stop to consider who the Lord, or one of His prophets, is addressing. Just because something’s in the Gospels doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s for the Church, or being in Isaiah that it’s only for Israel. Knowing a prophecy’s intended recipient is critical to understanding it, and there are three possibilities. I’ll show you what I mean.
His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. (Ephes. 2:15-16)
Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks (Gentiles) or the church of God.(1 Cor. 10:32)
You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26-28)
In the 4,000 or so years from the Creation to the Cross, the human race came to be divided into three distinct components from God’s perspective. Here’s how it happened. From the Creation there was one race of Humans, the family of man, later called Gentiles. Then in Genesis 12, God called Abraham to build a great nation. He and his descendants were first called Hebrews (Genesis 14:13), and later Jews (Ezra 4:12). From that time on, the world’s population was either Jew or Gentile. But at the cross God created the Church, taken from among both Jews and Gentiles but sharing a destiny with neither. Now there were three, and everyone on Earth belongs to of one of them. In his epistles, Paul always took pains to distinguish the Church from both Jews and Gentiles, in effect calling the Church a new race of Human in the passages I cited above. I’ll describe each group’s destiny so you can see how different they are.
First the Gentiles. According to Isaiah 56:6-8, Gentiles who converted to Judaism before the cross became part of Israel and share its destiny (see below) as long as they died in faith of a coming Redeemer. Gentiles who meet their Lord after the rapture are called tribulation believers. They’re either martyred for their faith, in which case their spirits will go to serve God in His Temple (Rev 7:13-17) and will be joined with resurrection bodies at the time of the 2nd Coming (Rev. 20:4), or they’ll survive the Great Tribulation to help re-populate the nations of Earth in the Kingdom age (Millennium). Believing Gentile survivors are the sheep in the Sheep and Goat Judgment that we’ll look at later.
Next the Jews. The spirits of Jews who died in faith of a coming redeemer before Jesus went to the cross were taken into Heaven with Him after His resurrection (Matt. 27:52-53). They’ll also receive resurrection bodies at the Second Coming (Daniel 12:1-3). Jews who receive Jesus as their Messiah after the church disappears will be hidden in the Jordanian desert (Petra) during the Great Tribulation. (Rev. 12:14) Both groups will dwell in Israel during the Millennium. (Ezekiel 43:6-7)
Of course Jews and Gentiles who give their hearts to Jesus during the Church age become part of the Church and after the rapture / resurrection will populate the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21). Many of us were taught to call it Heaven, but it’s actually a separate entity. (More on this in our discussion of the Millennium, item 6 on our list of 7 Things You Have To Know.)
Whether Jew or Gentile, those who don’t do any of the above during their lifetimes will be tormented in Hell until they’re brought back to life to stand trial at the Great White Throne judgment of Revelation 20:11-15. It takes place at the end of the Millennium. At that time, they’ll be sentenced to eternal suffering in the Lake of Fire. (Rev. 20:14)
In the Old Testament, God promised Israel that He would return one day to dwell among them in their land on Earth forever (Ezekiel 43:6-7). In the New Testament, Jesus promised the Church that He would come back and take us to be with Him in His Father’s House (John 14:1-3). Both promises come true. Israel is not the Church nor is the Church Israel, and both groups are distinct from the Gentile nations. Much of the confusion surrounding End Times prophecy results either from the failure to understand, or the refusal to accept, this truth.
For instance, many Christians today believe that the Church has replaced Israel in God’s plan and has inherited all of Israel’s blessings. Israel no longer serves any purpose in the world, they think, so when God talks about Israel in the New Testament He really means the Church. Therefore they misunderstand the Doctrine of Election, the Olivet Discourse, the Great Tribulation, and other New Testament teachings having to do with Israel.
Also, many Gentiles sit in pews on Sundays and think they’re in the church even though they’re not born again. They think they’re saved because they try to live a good life, or give money, or belong to a particular denomination. They’re wrongly convinced that the Church’s blessings are theirs.
So there are three components of humanity and they all have different destinies. New Jerusalem is for the Church, Israel is for the Jews, and the rest of the world is for Gentile believers who will re-populate the Earth after the 2nd Coming. All surviving non-believers, whether Jew or Gentile, will be taken away at the time of the 2nd Coming to await the Great White Throne Judgment at the end of the Millennium with unbelievers of all ages.
3) The Purpose And Length Of The Great Tribulation
How awful that day will be! None will be like it. It will be a time of trouble for Jacob, but he will be saved out of it. I am with you and will save you,’ declares the LORD . ‘Though I completely destroy all the nations among which I scatter you, I will not completely destroy you. I will discipline you but only with justice; I will not let you go entirely unpunished.’ (Jeremiah 30:7,11)
Jesus said that the Great Tribulation would be the most intense period of judgment the world has ever seen, greater than the World Wars, and even greater than the Flood of Noah. He said that if it were left to run its course, not a single human being would survive. But for the sake of His people He would stop it at its appointed time. (Matt. 24:22)
The purpose of the Great Tribulation is two-fold. It’s explained in the Jeremiah passage above, where it’s called by its Old Testament name, the Time of Jacob’s Trouble. God will use it to completely destroy the nations among whom His people have been scattered, and to discipline Israel, purifying them to dwell with Him in the Promised Land. The Church, having been purified at the cross, requires neither destruction nor discipline and has no business in the Great Tribulation.
(No matter where you place the Rapture in the End Times Scenario, if you believe in the Lord’s all-sufficient work on the cross, then you know that the Church has to be protected from the End Times judgments, not purified by them. If you don’t believe the Lord’s work was sufficient, but that the coming judgments are needed to finish what He only began, then you have much bigger problems than figuring out when the Rapture will occur.)
The length of the Great Tribulation is variously given as 3 1/2 years (Daniel 12:7), 42 months (Rev. 11:2), or 1260 days (Rev. 12:6). If you use a 12 month 30 day calendar for a total of 360 days in a year, these three measurements all turn out to be the same length. Some commentators claim that in Matt. 24:22 Jesus said this time would be cut short, and the English translation does seem to imply this, but it has to be an incorrect interpretation of the Lord’s intent. I say this because while Daniel 12 was written several hundred years before the Lord spoke on the matter, John wrote Revelation 60 years after the resurrection. so it’s length was made clear in testimony given both before the Lord’s time and after it. If He said the Great Tribulation is going to be cut short then He contradicted both Daniel and John, something the bible can’t do. More likely the intent of Matt. 24:22 is to explain that if the Lord doesn’t return to put an end to the Great Tribulation at the appointed time no one would survive it, but for the sake of His elect He will return to put an end to it.
The 3 1/2 years, 42 months, 1260 days references lead us to believe that Earth’s original calendar consisted of 12 months with 30 days each, and in fact it appears that prior to about 700 BC all the Earth used such a calendar. Since then a number of different calendars have emerged , apparently to compensate for changes that took place in the Earth’s orbit about that time. (The calendar used by Western Nations today is only about four hundred years old.)
In addition, Daniel 9:27 warns that an Abomination That Causes Desolation will occur in the middle of the last seven years, or 3 1/2 years from the end. In Matt. 24:21 Jesus identified this event as the official beginning of the Great Tribulation. Paul confirms this and adds detail by describing the anti-Christ standing in the Temple proclaiming himself to be God. (2 Thes. 2:4) This confirms the length of the Great Tribulation as being 3 1/2 years.
The Abomination That Causes Desolation is a particular defilement of the Temple that’s happened only once in history. In 168 BC. Syrian King Antiochus Epiphanes captured the Temple and converted it into a pagan worship center. He erected a statue of Zeus with his own face on it in the Holy Place, thereby proclaiming himself to be God, and demanded the Jews worship it on pain of death. It was called the Abomination That Causes Desolation because it made the Temple unfit for use and triggered the 3 1/2 year Maccabean Revolt. The Jewish re-capture and cleansing of the Temple in 165 BC is celebrated in the eight day Feast of Hanukkah.
To summarize, Daniel spoke of an Abomination That Causes Desolation that would mark the middle of the last 7 years. An event called the Abomination That Causes Desolation in 1st Maccabbees took place in 168 BC, over 300 years later. But 200 years after that, Jesus told His Disciples that the people of Israel should watch for a future Abomination That Causes Desolation and referred to Daniel’s prophecy in doing so (Matt. 24:15-21). He said it would kick off the Great Tribulation. Paul also described a future event similar to the one in 168BC saying the “Day of the Lord” could not precede it (2 Thes. 2:3-4).
Therefore, the Abomination That Causes Desolation that took place in 168 BC was only a partial fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy. Jesus referred to it so people in the end times would be able to recognize the complete fulfillment when they saw it. They’ll know to look for a man standing in the Temple calling himself God and demanding that his image be worshiped. Jesus told those living in Judea (Israel) that when they see it to flee into hiding immediately, for the Great Tribulation will have begun.
4) The Purpose Of The Rapture
They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead–Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.(1 Thes. 1:9-10)
The Greek word translated from in the above passage is “apo.” Literally it means to keep the subject (us) away from the time, place, or any relation to the event being referenced, in this case the coming wrath. This verse is one of several that explain the purpose of the Rapture of the Church, and that’s to hide us safely out of the way before God visits His wrath upon the Earth. OK, but when does God’s wrath come?
Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Rev 6:15-17)
After Revelation 3 the church is not seen on Earth again until we come back with the Lord in Rev. 21:2, as predicted in Rev. 17:14. In Rev. 4 John sees a door standing open in heaven and is told to “Come up here!” Instantly he finds himself in the spirit, standing before the throne of God at the end of the age. He’s been transported to the time of the Rapture.
He sees 24 elders there, seated on thrones of their own around the throne of God. They’re all dressed in white with crowns of gold on their heads. They bow down before the Lord and place their crowns at his feet giving honor and glory to him. In chapter 5 they call themselves Kings and Priests as they sing praises to God. By their titles, clothing, crowns, thrones, and activities it’s clear that they represent the newly raptured church.
There are four Old Testament views of the Throne of God. Those in Isaiah 6:1-4 andEzekiel 1and 10 don’t include these 24 elders. The one in Daniel 7:9-10, an end of the age vision, hints at multiple thrones but offers no detail. But in the Book of Revelation the 24 elders are mentioned 12 times. Some group has arrived in Heaven that wasn’t there in Old Testament times, and 12 is the number of government. It’s the Church, come to rule and reign with Christ.
So the Church is raptured in chapter 4, and is shown in heaven in chapter 5, while on Earth God’s wrath is loosed in chapter 6 as the passage above clearly states.
Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians was written in 51AD and contains the very first clear mention of a Rapture ever given. Neither Jesus nor the Disciples ever taught it. Its existence was kept secret until then just as its exact timing is secret to this day. Many of the mistakes made about the timing of the rapture come from futile attempts to find Gospel passages that teach it, as we’ll see in our discussion about the Second Coming.
We think the Rapture is perhaps the single most important component of End Times prophecy, and for us it is. So why didn’t Jesus ever mention it? 1 Cor. 2:6-10 gives us the answer. We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written:
“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”— but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.
The phrase “rulers of this age” refers to Satan & Co. Had they known the astonishing abundance of blessings the Lord would shower down upon those who accept His death as payment for their sins, they would have done everything in their power to prevent the crucifixion. Think of it. We’re called Kings and Priests, given incalculable wealth and influence, made heirs with Christ of God’s estate, something Satan could never achieve and we could never deserve, and it’s all ours just because we believe. This realization came to Satan after it was too late to prevent it and turned what should have been his greatest victory into an agonizing defeat. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.(Colossians 2:15)
But like everything in God’s plan, you’ll find hints of the Rapture even in the Old Testament. Look at this passage from Isaiah 26:19-21. But your dead will live; their bodies will rise. You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy. Your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead. Go, my people, enter your rooms and shut the doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until his wrath has passed by. See, the LORD is coming out of his dwelling to punish the people of the earth for their sins.
Notice how the pronouns change from second person when God speaks of His people to third person when He speaks of the people of the Earth. It means the two groups are different. One is told to hide because the other is going to be punished. (Note: the Hebrew word translated “go” in the phrase “Go my people” is translated “come” in some translations, recalling the command to John in Revelation 4, “Come up here!” But the word has another primary meaning and it’s my favorite. It means vanish. “Vanish, my people!” Yes we will.)
Now read two of Paul’s most popular Rapture disclosures. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. (1 Thes 4:15-17)
Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 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. But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. (1 Thes. 5:1-5) For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thes. 5:9)
Here’s another even more dramatic shift of pronouns. Using the third person, Paul describes unbelievers caught by surprise, thinking they had entered a period of peace as destruction suddenly rains down upon them, cutting off all hope of escape. Then Paul switched to the second person, telling believers we shouldn’t be taken by surprise as the End approaches, and finally to the first person as he includes us with him, not appointed to wrath.
Now watch carefully as we lay Isaiah’s writings over Paul’s. But your dead will live; their bodies will rise. You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy. Your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead. (The dead in Christ will rise first.)
Go, my people, enter your rooms and shut the doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until his wrath has passed by.
(After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.)
See, the LORD is coming out of his dwelling to punish the people of the earth for their sins. (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.)
Although the Bible contains 66 books and involved 40 writers, there’s one Author and His message is consistent from Genesis through Revelation. This is how Paul could open his passage on the rapture by saying, “According to the Lord’s own word …”. The Lord never mentioned the rapture in the Gospels. Paul had read Isaiah.
Of course there are several more passages where our Lord promises to protect us from the coming judgments. And although the cynics can truthfully say that the word rapture doesn’t appear in any of them, don’t pay any attention to that. They’re just trying to confuse us.
They know that rapture is a word of Latin origin, not Hebrew or Greek, the languages of the Bible. (The earliest translation of the Bible was into Latin, and the term rapture comes from there.) Its Greek equivalent is harpazo, which is found in the Greek text of 1 Thes. 4:15-17. When translated into English, both words mean “to be caught up, or snatched away.” There’s a similar situation with the word Lucifer, also of Latin origin. It doesn’t appear in any of the original texts either, but no one would be naive enough to deny the existence of Satan on such a flimsy basis.
Next time we’ll cover the final three of Seven Things You Have To Know To Understand End Times Prophecy. See you then.