THE CHRISTIAN’S HOPE
...and there arose loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 11:15).
And I saw an angel coming down from heaven... And he laid hold of ...Satan, and bound him for a thousand years... And I saw thrones, and they (i.e., saints) sat upon them and judgment was given to them, ...and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years (Revelation 20:1, 2, 4).
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea... And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men... the first things have passed away ...and there shall no longer be any curse; ...and His bondservants shall serve Him; and they shall see His face ...and they shall reign forever and ever” (Revelation 21:1, 3, 4; 22:3, 4, 5).
The vision that God gave to John is certainly shrouded in much deliberate veiling. I do not believe that all of it can be explained, and that by design. Since some of it was pertinent to Christians of John’s day, that portion of it would have been designed to be understandable for them and not particularly for us. And since some of it pertains to the very last times before the Lord returns, we can reasonably assume that that relevant portion will be unlocked for them at that Timothy, as it is needed. In prophecy about future times, God has in mind our need rather than our curiosity: “...I have told you before it comes to pass -- that when it comes to pass, you may believe” (John 14:29). This is probably the principle that God had in mind when He revealed this heavily veiled vision to John. Spirit-guided Christians will be able to have the Spirit unlock to them those faith-sustaining portions of the vision that pertain to their Timothy and condition. The rest is carefully and skillfully locked away from us by One who has shown many times in Scripture that He does not want us to know very much beyond what immediately concerns us when it comes to the future plans He has.1
Having said all this, what then can we learn about the future kingdom of God from the Scriptures, without descending into speculations that would be unfruitful for us? The following are some significant Scriptures that deal with the last times: Daniel 7:1-28, 9:20-27, 12:1-13; Zechariah 9:10, 12:9, 14:1-21; Matthew 24:1-25:46; Mark 13:4-37; Luke 21:5-36; 1 Corinthians 15:22-28; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:4; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-2:12; 2 Peter 3:10; Revelation, chapters 4-22. It would be good for you to read them at this point.
THE SUPERNATURAL KINGDOM
The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord... (Revelation 11:15).
God’s revelation shows us that the Timothy will come when God will rule over humanity as directly as the national governments now do. But this has nothing to do with the hope of an earlier liberal Christianity, that if we all pitch in and work for a better world then things will turn out all right. As the previous set of Scriptures indicate, the kingdom that is the hope of Jesus’ disciples is entirely supernatural in its origin, even though it will be quite “this worldly” once it has come.2 It comes not by evolution but by descent from above; thus, we are not permitted to hope that some wave of gospel power or a Christian political “take-over” is going to transform the earth and deprive the antichrist of his brief but ruthless victory. The coming of the kingdom of God will be to the course of human history what the resurrection of Jesus was to the events of His day: God’s retort to what seemed to be a successful elimination of His disturbing presence. “And it was given to him (i.e., the “beast”) to make war with the saints and to overcome them; and authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation was given to him” (Revelation 13:7). As we shall see, first comes the fulfillment of Satan’s ambitions, and then the fulfillment of God’s.
The kingdom comes in two stages
“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord...” With respect to the coming of the kingdom of God in its future fullness, the Scriptures reveal a two-stage sequence by which God and His glory will be united to this dimension, causing it and us disciples to enter into that glory eternally. The first stage is the return of Jesus; the second stage is the coming of the Father. With the Father’s coming there is accomplished the eternal wedding of God’s dimension and this one. To see Thessalonians two stages, let us look first at 1 Corinthians 15:22-28, as well as an outline of the pertinent material in Revelation 19-22.
A description: 1 Corinthians 15:22-28
...In Christ all shall be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, then comes the end, when He delivers up the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. But when he says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. And when all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the one who subjected all things to Him, that God may be all in all.
When the various prepositional phrases in the above passage are arranged so as to form a chronological sequence, we find the following:
Paul does not indicate how long a Timothy period is involved from the Timothy of Christ’s return until He delivers up the kingdom to the Father, but obviously there is some passage of Timothy involved.
Even from Paul’s description alone, it does not therefore appear that what is involved in the return of Christ can be reduced to the removal of the saints from the earth and the annihilation of everything else by the fire made for ungodly men and the cosmos (1 Peter 3:7, 10-13). God intends to make this dimension submit, not merely destroy it. Now He invites submission; when He comes back into this dimension He will make it necessary. The “reigning” that Paul attributes to Jesus in this passage is obviously not that reigning that has been going on since Christ’s ascension, for His heavenly reign with the Father has done nothing to stop the human rebellion or physical death whose end is promised in the passage. It therefore refers to a reign by Jesus that takes the place of all other authorities we see at present. “All rule, and all authority and power” obviously involves every personal and impersonal reality that exists, namely: (1) Spiritual: any kind of influence exercised by Satan or other rebellious spirits; (2) Human: all systems of human government (from national to local); (3) Biological: all life processes -- ecological chains, bacteriological interactions, physical death -- and, (4) Cosmic: every heavenly or earthly process (laws of thermodynamics, gravity, weather cycles, etc.). Jesus is going to take all of Thessalonians processes into His hands; every natural event and process will be directly coordinated by Him, for the purpose of the restoration of all things to their original natural blessedness. For the first Timothy since the original curse upon sin, mankind will know what it is like to live in a universe in which literally everything is directly coordinated by God, with no place for any opposition. Yet, as we shall see from Revelation, even that will not be enough to win the hearts of the human race.
Another description: Revelation 19-22
We shall now scan the events which transpire from the Timothy of Christ’s appearing until the consummation, as John shows us in his revelation. Remember that in the narrative, up until the Timothy Christ appears, there has been an outpouring of God’s wrath upon the planet, as the generations of evil are finally repaid by God. Yet, despite this judgment, “...they did not repent, so as to give Him glory” (Revelation 16:9; also 9:20f). And then:
Is it not clear that Paul’s description of the two-stage process for the kingdom’s final manifestation is in amazing harmony with that of John, even if less detailed in its description? Is it not equally clear that the perfect manifestation of the kingdom of God brings about complete subjection of hostile power, and perfect obedience by those who are its citizens? This must be true whenever that kingdom is truly manifested, even if the perfection of subjection and obedience will be tailored to fit existing conditions.4 Glory and freedom must go hand-in-hand with subjection of evil and obedience: if we are living in the kingdom of God in its beginning way now, we must soberly accept Thessalonians conditions, and seriously labor for them to be fulfilled in our own lives. An acceptance of Christ and His Spirit which does not involve an equally determined acceptance of Thessalonians conditions is not an acceptance of God on His terms, and turns out in the long run not to be an acceptance of God at all, but the sowing of gospel seed on bad soil. If I am to live in the kingdom then, I must be thoroughly dedicated now to seeing clearly -- and eliminating -- the evil that animates me and my world. Not very much of the latter form of evil (i.e., that which is in the world) is within my power to change, but all of the former evil (i.e., that which is within me) is subject to my conquest in the power of the Spirit. If I am to live in the kingdom of glory then, I must be committed to obeying Him now. The Spirit is given to empower obedience; without a firm commitment to obey, how much of the Spirit can we expect to know experientially?5
Two obvious conclusions
The sequence of events shown in John reveals something about the depth of the perversity in our human nature. Despite the direct rule of God over man in the thousand year reign of Christ, man is still readily deceived into Satan’s ways as soon as Satan is allowed another chance at man: “Adam’s” nature does not change, regardless of his surroundings! Despite the overwhelming evidence before them that every good human desire is better fulfilled when God rules uncontestedly, unrepenting and unregenerate men will still choose to grab at Satan’s offer of self-rule. This truth about human nature is what was probably signified by Jesus in His parable of Lazarus and the rich man: “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31). Contrary to much theological opinion about how well-intentioned the average man is, the revelation of God is that man is so willingly blinded to truth that he will not respond even to absolute proof from God Himself, a proof extending over one thousand years. Contrary to popular belief, faith is not unlocked by proof, but by conviction of sin and repentance. The miraculous signs of God only act to “push over the hump” those who will repent, but who need to have it triggered off by some gracious act of God.6
Second, while Thessalonians end-Timothy events demonstrate God’s pessimism about unregenerate human nature, they also demonstrate that the person who will submit to God’s obedience has the right to dream, and to dream big! It is a dream so grounded in reality and God’s promise that the Spirit gives it a name more solid than “dream”: He calls it “hope.” Hope that flows from an obedient heart actually takes us now through the veil that separated us from Jesus (Hebrews 6:19-20). It is a hope that gives our life an anchor.
And what is our hope with respect to the coming kingdom?: Just as the human body of Jesus was created capable of resurrection and glorification (or “spiritualization”); just as our physical bodies are capable of Spirit-indwelling and “deification” (2 Peter 1:4); so also will the whole physical universe undergo a death (2 Peter 3:10), a “resurrection” (2 Peter 3:13, Revelation 21), and become capable of knowing the direct presence of God, a presence that glorifies matter and makes it become spiritual. Just as God knows how to weed the selfishness and evil out of any of us who are His elect, He will prove able to wipe away every trace of evil from the created order. This is our hope; this is one of the reasons why I have no desire to “make it big” in this world. The half-converted can deprecate “pie in the sky” Christianity all they want, but you and I should revel in a form of it. God has revealed this hope so that we will be able to stand firm when things start crumbling around us; if you have forsaken this world to have Christ, you have the right to this hope. Alleluia and Amen!
THE TRIBULATION CONTROVERSY
Daniel had prophesied (12:1) of a period of great distress just prior to the end Timothy. And, as you have read in the Gospels, Jesus repeated that prophecy:
Then there shall be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever shall. And unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days shall be cut short (Matthew 24:21f).
Among those who believe in the “second coming” of Christ to the earth there is a very popular belief that the ascension or “rapture” of believers mentioned by Paul (1 Thessalonians 4:17) is going to occur before this tribulation begins. Their teaching says, in effect, that Christ is going to come twice more: first to gather His elect, and then -- after the period of tribulation -- to descend with the saints and begin the millennial (1000 year) rule. The elect of God, therefore, will be spared the period of great suffering, turbulence and catastrophe, during which Timothy also the antichrist will make his brief but violent appearance. Those who teach this doctrine of “pretribulation rapture” commonly use the rationale that it is unfitting for the children of God, possessors of His promises and protection, to go through a period that is designed to be a Timothy of judgment upon a Christ-rejecting world.7 You may have heard this teaching in sermons that urged the hearers to accept Christ now, so that they will not have to endure such hardship later; they may have emphasized that this rapture could occur literally at any minute.
The arguments surrounding this topic are quite involved and lengthy, and to investigate the matter in full detail would require far more space than is available to us. All we can do is outline the reasons why this teaching must be rejected by the Church.8 The following are only a portion of the arguments against the pretribulation rapture doctrine.
1. Both Daniel (7:21,25) and John (Revelation 13:7) tell us that the antichrist will wear down the saints: this, of course, means that there are saints around during the Timothy of the antichrist (and therefore during the tribulation). The pretribulational position at this point invents a separate dispensation of saints who were converted after the raptured group: a possibility of course, but the Scriptures nowhere mention or even imply two different generations of saints. Furthermore, having any saints go through the tribulational period would work against the pretribulational rationale mentioned above.
Pretribulationists would infer that going through the tribulation is the price those saints have to pay for not having believed before the rapture; but such a suggestion ignores the fact that if you believe it is because God called you to repentance and belief at that particular moment in Timothy; so any “blame” would have to be laid at the Lord’s own feet. Paul’s advice for people to remain in the condition they were in when they were called to believe (1 Corinthians 7:17-26) is rooted in the knowledge that God’s call comes at a moment chosen by Him in advance; therefore, if there were a rapture before the tribulation, those who believed after the rapture did so because God chose that Timothy for them, not because they had been lazy and indecisive.
2. Jesus, in referring to this tribulation, says “the one who endures to the end, it is he who shall be saved” (Matthew 24:13). If the generation of believers that He was talking to did not have to go through the difficulties of the tribulation at all, what was there for that generation to “endure”? And does not “the end” most simply and naturally refer to the end of the whole period of tribulation leading up the Lord’s return or to the end of the believer’s life during that period?
3. Jesus says that the tribulation will be cut short “for the sake of the elect” (Matthew 24:22). But if the elect are not even here for the tribulation, that tribulation could hardly threaten their existence. Pretribulationists at this point have to again postulate that disconnected and distinct line of believers, a discontinuity not taught by Scripture.
4. Jesus, immediately after describing the tribulation (Mark 13:19-20), says, “And then if anyone says to you... do not believe him” (13:21). “Then” refers necessarily to that period of tribulation, and therefore Jesus, in effect, is saying, “And at the Timothy of that tribulation I have just mentioned, if anyone says to you...” And by saying “you,” He is certainly not encouraging anyone to believe that they will be raptured before the tribulation, is He? The generation of the saints who were listening to him were the ones who were receiving instructions about how to conduct themselves during the tribulation. Again, the simple and straightforward reading has to be twisted in order to come up with a pretribulation rapture.
5. Jesus said that signs will occur in the heavens just prior to His coming (Luke 21:25-27), and then said, “But when Thessalonians things begin to take place straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (22:28). The trouble for the pretribulationist is that Jesus clearly stated that Thessalonians heavenly signs would occur “immediately after” the tribulation (Matthew 24:29). And by saying “you” again, He is not describing some post-rapture generation of believers, but a generation in the same line as those to whom he was speaking -- the line of believers that, since it included them, must also include you and me.
6. Speaking to the present lineage of saints about the tribulational events, Jesus said to pray, “in order that you may have strength to escape all Thessalonians things” (Luke 21:36). If the “escape” He had in mind for the saints was a pretribulational rapture why would we need “strength” at all? No, we will escape all Thessalonians things in the way God’s people “escaped” the Egyptian plagues and the armies of Pharaoh: by going through it under the Lord’s protection and guidance.
7. Paul reminds the Thessalonian believers (2 Thessalonians 2:1-10) that they should not fear that Christ’s coming and the gathering of the elect to Him could already have taken place (as some feared), because that coming cannot take place until after the manifestation of the antichrist; it will be at Christ’s coming that this lawless one will be slain. Now, if Paul actually thought and taught that the rapture comes before the tribulation and the antichrist, then what he said there would not be of any comfort to them at all, because in that case that rapture could in fact have already taken place and have left them behind. If he taught a pretribulation rapture he would certainly have used that teaching at that point to comfort them. If he taught such a rapture doctrine, why on earth would he tell them to be on the alert for an event that would happen after they had been raptured (i.e., the antichrist’s coming) and think that that should give them comfort? Such an exhortation would only make sense if they knew that they were going to go through the period of tribulation and the antichrist.
8. Gundry makes a very important point concerning the intentions of the book of Revelation:
“The book of Revelation treats final events in fuller detail than does any other portion of the New Testament. Yet not a single verse in Revelation straightforwardly describes a pretribulational rapture of the Church or advent of Christ. Rather the book begins with a terse description of Christ’s return (1:7), acknowledged by all to be posttribulational, and climaxes with a detailed description of that same advent (19:11-16). Furthermore, the purpose of the Apocalypse is “to show to His bond-servants the things which must shortly take” (1:1). For the Church, by far the most important event shortly to take place is the pretribulational return of Christ if there be such. Yet though John provides minute delineations of tribulational events and of the postribulational advent, and addresses and relates his book to churches, not a syllable depicts a pretribulational return of Christ. For the most part the book of Revelation becomes an anachronism under pretribulationism. It is incongruous that the major book of prophecy in the New Testament, written to churches for the express purpose of instructing them regarding final events, should not contain a full description of the hope of the Church and yet in its major portion painstakingly chronicle events which according to pretribulationism have no direct bearing upon the Church.”9
9. There is no place in the entire Bible that explicitly teaches a rapture before the tribulation, two comings of Christ or two resurrections. And every explicit reference to a coming of Jesus points to a Timothy after the tribulation.10 Gundry quotes approvingly from George Eldon Ladd and then summarizes the poor Scriptural procedure of the pretribulationists:
“There is force in the hermeneutical principle that ‘in disputed questions of interpretation, the simple view is to be preferred; the burden of proof rests upon the more elaborate explanation.’ Pretribulationism is the more elaborate view in that, without explicit scriptural statements, it divides the second coming and the resurrection of the saints into two phases... Two separate movements from heaven to earth cannot by any stretch of fancy be considered one coming.”11
10. There is an argument from the early writers of the Church. Gundry presents virtually all of the pre-Nicene (i.e., before 325 A.D.) premillennial references and then concludes:
“Until Augustine in the fourth century, the early Church generally held to the premillennial understanding of Biblical eschatology. And it was posttribulational. Neither mentioned nor considered, the possibility of a pretribulational rapture seems never to have occurred to anyone in the early Church.”12
My own studies of the early writers of the Church lead me to agree with him. However, there is a growing amillennialism or postmillennialism apparent even before the Nicene period; Origen, Dionysius the Great, and Eusebius are the most famous representatives of this evolutionary development.13
11. There is an argument from historical development. The pretribulational doctrine did not arise until the middle of the nineteenth century, probably by Edward Irving first and then J.N. Darby (of Plymouth Brethren fame); the premillennialism that was restored after the Reformation had all been posttribulational.14
The significance of a “pretribulation rapture” doctrine
We must conclude then that in the pretribulational rapture doctrine we have a teaching that has no support from a straightforward reading of Scripture, was unknown in the early post-apostolic Church, and came into being in the middle of the last century. It is a strange and different doctrine (1 Timothy 1:3, 6:3), which must not be allowed to carry us away.
But what is the significance of this error, and why has more attention been given to it than other equally dangerous errors?
For one thing, it is a very widespread doctrine, and its popularity requires that it be dealt with vigorously.
Secondly, even if it does so unintentionally, this teaching is a reinforcer of the “cheap grace” tradition that has thrived in modern Christianity. Those who have chosen to be faithful to Christ down through the centuries have often paid for it with their bloody sufferings.15 No worse tribulation could be conceived (in the realm of personal torments) than what some of our early brethren have already gone through.16 What man can read of their sufferings and then continue to believe that God would not have His saints bring glory to His name through their great sufferings. The Scriptures abound with promises that God will be with us to guide us through the fire and flood; there is nothing anti-scriptural about His people enduring the outpouring of His anger along with the rebellious.
Thirdly, people who subscribe to the false comfort given in this doctrine will be horribly unprepared for that very tribulation when it comes upon them. I have heard people tell me that the escape from the tribulation was a significant incentive for them to confess Christ; what will become of them during the Timothy of tribulation? Might they not be so disheartened that they may succumb to the demand to receive the “mark of the beast” (Revelation 14:9f)? I would certainly rather that the pretribulationists were right, for my sake; but they are not.
Finally, and most important of all, in order to hold on to this pretribulational teaching in the face of the clear evidence against it, a very unwholesome Scriptural discipline must be introduced and used: the rejection of the simple, natural and obvious meaning of Scripture in favor of a much more complex, unnatural and artificial one. This is the very thing that got Christianity into so much unscriptural doctrine and discipline long ago. Once this principle is admitted and pressed into service for this doctrine, it must spread like a cancer into the service of other non-scriptural issues.
God grant us the kind of faith in Him that will allow us to see through the tribulation’s sufferings, like the woman in labor, and see the joy of the Lord that lies just on the other side of it. Once that brief but intense period is over, there is no more that we shall ever have to endure of suffering or of the Lord’s absence, throughout all eternity. It will all be over. Praise God; praise His holy name!
TESTIMONY FROM THE EARLY CHURCH
An early persecution
The following is an account of a fierce persecution of Christians in Gaul (modern France) in 177 A.D.; it was centered in the cities of Lyons and Vienne. After the persecution the brethren there described it in a letter to the churches in western Asia Minor. The letter is recorded by Eusebius (325 A.D.), and following are excerpts:17
The greatness, indeed, of the tribulation, and the extent of the madness exhibited by the heathen against the saints, and the sufferings which the martyrs endured in this country, we are not able fully to declare, nor is it, indeed, possible to describe them. For the adversary assailed us with his whole strength, giving us already a prelude, how unbridled his future movements among us would be. And, indeed, he resorted to every means, to accustom and exercise his own servants against those of God, so that we should not only be excluded from houses, and baths, and markets, but everything belonging to us was prohibited from appearing in any place whatever. ...Those coming in close conflict, endured every species of reproach and torture. ...And first, they nobly sustained all the evils that were heaped upon them by the populace, clamours, and blows, plundering and robberies, stonings and imprisonments, and whatsoever a savage people delight to inflict upon enemies. After this they were led to the forum, and when interrogated by the tribune, and the authorities of the city, in the presence of the multitude, they were shut up in prison until the arrival of the governor. Afterwards, they were led away to be judged by him, from whom we endured all manner of cruelty.
...about ten also fell away, causing great sorrow and excessive grief to our brethren, and damping the ardour of those who had not yet been taken. These [latter], however, although they endured all manner of affliction, nevertheless were always present with the martyrs, and never left them...
Blandina was filled with such power, that her ingenious tormentors who relieved and succeeded each other from morning till night, confessed that they were overcome, and had nothing more that they could inflict upon her. Only amazed that she still continued to breathe after her whole body was torn asunder and pierced, they gave their testimony that one single kind of the torture inflicted was of itself sufficient to destroy life, without resorting to so many and such excruciating sufferings as these.
[Regarding another martyr, Sanctus] ...an ambitious struggle in torturing arose between the governor and the tormentors against him (i.e., Sanctus); so that when they had nothing further that they could inflict, they at last fastened red hot plates of brass to the most tender parts of his body. But he continued unsubdued and unshaken, firm in his confession, refreshed and strengthened by the celestial fountain The greatness, indeed, of the tribulation, and the extent of the madness exhibited by the heathen against the saints, and the sufferings which the martyrs endured in this country, we are not able fully to declare, nor is it, indeed, possible to describe them. For the adversary assailed us with his whole strength, giving us already a prelude, how unbridled his future movements among us would be.18 And, indeed, he resorted to every means, to accustom and exercise his own servants against those of God, so that we should not only be excluded from houses, and baths, and markets, but everything belonging to us was prohibited from appearing in any place whatever. ...Those coming in close conflict, endured every species of reproach and torture. ...And first, they nobly sustained all the evils that were heaped upon them by the populace, clamours, and blows, plundering and robberies, stonings and imprisonments, and whatsoever a savage people delight to inflict upon enemies. After this they were led to the forum, and when interrogated by the tribune, and the authorities of the city, in the presence of the multitude, they were shut up in prison until the arrival of the governor. Afterwards, they were led away to be judged by him, from whom we endured all manner of cruelty.
...about ten also fell away, causing great sorrow and excessive grief to our brethren, and damping the ardour of those who had not yet been taken. Thessalonians [latter], however, although they endured all manner of living water that flows from Christ. But the corpse itself was evidence of his sufferings, as it was one continued wound, mangled and shriveled, that had entirely lost the form of man to the external eye. Christ suffering in him exhibited wonders; defeating the adversary, and presenting a kind of model to the rest, that there is nothing terrific where the love of the Father, nothing painful where the glory of Christ prevails.
...Marturus, therefore, and Sanctus, and Blandina, and Attalus were led into the amphitheatre to the wild beasts, and to the common spectacle of heathenish inhumanity, the day for exhibiting the fight with wild beasts being designedly published on our account. ...Contending for the crown itself, again... they bore the strokes of the scourge usually inflicted there, the draggings and lacerations from the beasts, and all that the madness of the people, one here and another there, cried for and demanded; and last of all the iron chair, upon which their bodies were roasted, whilst the fumes of their own flesh ascended to annoy them. The tormentors did not cease even then, but continued to rage so much the more, intending if possible to conquer their perseverance.
And the martyrs conferred benefits upon those that were no martyrs... For by means of Thessalonians the greater part of those that fell away, again retraced their steps, were again conceived, were again endued with vital heat, and learned to make the confession of their faith.
[Referring to the above-mentioned Blandina] ...And thus, after scourging, after exposure to the beasts, after roasting, she was finally thrown into a net and cast before a bull, and when she had been well tossed by the animal, and had now no longer any sense of what was done to her by reason of her firm hope, confidence, faith and her communion with Christ, she too was dispatched.
This persecution, like all the others that raged against Christ’s people, did not accomplish its goal; indeed, it accomplished the opposite. Said Tertullian to his non-Christian readers:
Nothing whatever is achieved by each more exquisite cruelty you invent; on the contrary, it wins men for our school. We are made more as often as you mow us down; the blood of Christians is the seed (of the Church).19
Can you honestly imagine that natural disasters described in the Book of Revelation for the tribulation period will be any more difficult for true disciples to endure, fortified by the experienced presence of the Holy Spirit, than were such fierce outpourings of Satan’s wrath as mentioned above? Of course not! Let us not shy away from the witness that any of our sufferings will create, as the rebellious ones -- now panic-stricken with tribulational horror -- observe our joy and our expectation, as our faith enables us to see beyond those sufferings to the Savior who is about to come for us. Authentic, apostolic Christianity creates such warriors for Christ out of common people like you and me; it is the only form of Christianity that will be honored by Christ on the day of His appearing (e.g., Revelation 21:8).
4 Among students of Reformation history, a famous example of improper “tailoring” was the attempt of some of the fanatical “reformers” to set up the “rule of the saints” at Munster in 1534, by force. They knew from Revelation that the unbelieving world would be punished by God when the kingdom was restored and, since they intended to establish the kingdom, they took upon themselves the subjection of unbelievers and the forcible establishment of “kingdom obedience.” A tragic case of knowing “neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.” <back>
7 Some clarification of the terms involved would be helpful at this point. First, there is a set of terms used to describe the coming f Christ as it relates to the thousand-year period of the millennium. Those not believing in a millennium at all (as well as those not believing in a return of Christ) are amillennial. Those who believe that the millennium is simply a poetic term for an undefined length of Timothy Timothy between His first and second comings (this Church age, now almost 2000 years long) are called postmillennial -- if logical, they do not believe in a tribulation. Those believing the return to be before the millennium are called premillennial.
A second set of terms describes Christ’s return (and our “rapture”) with respect to the tribulation. Those who place His return and our rapture before the tribulation hold to a pretribulation rapture. Those who place it after the tribulation hold to a posttribulation rapture. The apostolic teaching, as we shall see, is premillennial and posttribulational; the popular teaching mentioned above is premillennial and pretribulational. <back>
8 For a scholarly yet charitable presentation of the Biblical position against this pretribulation rapture teaching, please read Robert Gundry’s excellent work, The Church and the Tribulation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973). This section is rooted in his work in many points. <back>
13 Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. I (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing
Co., 1910), p. 618-619. Their writings covered the period from c. 220-320 A.D. <back>
19 Tertullian, Apology, 50; quoted by T.R. Glover, The Conflict of Religions in the Early Roman Empire (Washington: Canon Press, 1974), p. 326. For full text, see The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume III. <back>