A Rock of Offence Commentary
I'm amazed at how little is said these days about one of the most monumental events taught by the Bible: The Second Coming of Jesus Christ! The return of Christ completes 6000 years of human history and ushers in a 1000 year reign of God's Kingdom on earth. Christ's Second Coming is not the "end of the world" as many believe. Yet, it will be preceded by 7 years of the worst tribulation in human history. While many remaining on earth will lose their lives during the Tribulation period the earth is not totally destroyed but continues on into Christ's millenial reign. Forty days after his resurrection Jesus ascended (was raptured) to heaven while a small group of disciples watched. An angel made the following statement:
"Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven." (Acts 1:11 KJV)
Other references are made in the New Testament about the Second Coming of Jesus...
"In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also." (John 14:2-3 KJV)
"Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming:" (2 Thess. 2:1-8 KJV)
"To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints." (1Thes 3:13 KJV)
"For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words." (1Thes 4:16-18 KJV)
The prophetic record from the Bible warns that Christ's return is rapidly approaching and will break upon the stage of human history at any moment. Yet, the discussion within Christian Orthodoxy is riddled with fear, misinformation, false teaching, neglect and confusion. This article contains a discussion about end-time events. It is being put forth as another testimony of God's grace toward His Church. I have no illusions that this article will silence the raging war over these issues. Like so many other topics in God's Word--we'll only see resolution when Jesus returns to set the record straight. Yet, I believe that God is opening the door of revelation knowledge to this generation concerning the fulfillment of prophecy. I believe we can know what's about to happen--and when.
For the longest time I delayed a study about the last days. Like many, the spiritual depth of the book of Revelation is intimidating along with the hundreds (if not thousands) of different interpretations about how this age ends. I’ve watched Hollywood movies like “Armageddon” and shake my head at the gross misconceptions that exist concerning the end of the world. In the Bible, Armageddon is not about a large meteor striking earth and it’s not about the total destruction of the planet. It’s about a wicked world system (led by anti-Christ) that unites against Christ and His Kingdom at Armageddon. Jesus prevents all human life from being destroyed by returning to the earth and defeating Satan (as the anti-Christ).
Lately, I’ve been puzzled by something Jesus and the early apostles taught. The New Testament warns about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. We are constantly admonished to be in an attitude of watchfulness so that this monumental event doesn’t catch us by surprise. Jesus suggests that being surprised by His coming is not a good thing. So, what’s puzzling about all of this? I don’t see many Christians these days either talking about or watching expectantly for the soon return of the Lord Jesus. Saint Paul taught that Christ's return (at the rapture of the Church) is the believer’s “Blessed Hope”. Yet, there are many reasons for this lack of interest among Christians. One reason: Spiritual leaders either ignore the subject altogether or they allow other important Biblical topics or religious practices to take precedence over this Messianic mandate. However, I believe the main reasons to be wrong teaching that include: Distortions about the roles of Israel and the Church, distortions and mockery of Saint Paul's teaching concerning the departure of the Church from the earth (commonly known as the rapture) and distortions about the millennium (Christ’s 1000 year reign on earth). The reason believers aren’t excited by the prospect of Christ’s soon return is a loss of the “Believer’s Hope” caused by these wrong teachings. Currently, there is more false information about end-time issues than truth. Most of the church is under misconceptions found in various different end time interpretations (There are seven major positions). This is why few believers are watching and so many are disinterested. Also, many are told that the Church is called to endure the Tribulation period with Israel (more on this later). This popular teaching causes Christians to lose the hope taught by Saint Paul. This is tragic--not only for those who believe it, but also for those who teach it.
For information on the different end-time views click here
Read The Bible Prophecy Primer By Ron Graff
Early in my Christian life I believed in the Pre-tribulation/Pre-millenial position of the end times. For those who are unfamiliar with the terminology—this position teaches that the Church (the Body of Christ) is physically removed from the earth before the judgments of the Tribulation period--and returns with Jesus Christ at His Second Coming to the earth to begin the 1000-year millennial kingdom. Again, if you're new to all of this, it sounds pretty extreme. Yet, it's really just fundamental Bible prophecy 101. As a new Christian I held this view because the church I attended taught it that way. A few years later I attended another fellowship that held a post-tribulation view; meaning that the Church is going through the 7-year Tribulation period—not good news. I foolishly changed my position because it sounded like the correct interpretation from the way the Scriptures were used. At the time, I was more focused on other Bible subjects and didn't want to invest the time to develop my own beliefs about the end times. I’ve always desired to embrace truth even if it wasn’t something I wanted to hear. If God said the Church was going through the Tribulation period -- then that's what I believe. But, God clearly didn't say that in His Word! I regret that I’ve waited so long to research this subject. One third of the Bible involves prophecy about the last days. One in every 25 verses of the New Testament (on average) relates to the Second Coming of Christ! That's a pretty big topic to ignore, especially since it's a vital part of our salvation. Our Lord wants us to know what’s going on and to understand events at the time of His return. His instruction to the Church is to watch and pray—because the Lord will return at a time that you don’t expect Him. Again, Jesus suggests that being surprised by His coming is not a good thing.
Every Christian believer has an opinion about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. But, not all opinions are factual and right. Nothing is more divisive among Christians than end-time doctrine. Yet, I now understand that our beliefs about this important subject determines whether we profit from all that Jesus died to provide us—or whether we get cheated out of the blessings of Christ. Our view of the events surronding the Second Coming of Jesus Christ -- and especially the different roles that the Church and Israel play during the Tribulation period ripple all the way through our understanding of God's will for our life. I find that there is a "legalistic belief system" in Christian Orthodoxy that dominate the majority of doctrines and traditions. This system (based in fear and condemnation) influences many Christians in their view of life and God’s purposes during the end-times. It spiritualizes (or rationalizes) evil things as being good and good things as being evil. It's a counterfeit religious system and currently dominates the church world--especially the discussion of the last days. I'm always amazed how some Christians seem to take pride in embracing principles that the Bible warns is grounded in a curse. Yet, this is a dominant influence among most Christians.
I hold to the pre-tribulation/pre-millenial position -- because it’s the only interpretation that makes sense after weighing all the Scriptures IN CONTEXT. Most wrong interpretations of end-time events result from ignoring or misunderstanding the context of the Bible. There are many highly educated and well-meaning people that take a different position and I’ve heard their arguments. I don’t hold to the pre-tribulation position because I’m into escapism. I embrace it because God’s Word, and especially Christ's new covenant clearly support it.
The reader should understand here at the beginning that I support Israel. The Scriptures teach that God has not permanently rejected his chosen people (Israel) as many in the church believe. The fact remains that Israel rejected her Messiah, which is the reason God set them aside for a season and will cause them to endure the judgment of the Tribulation period (also known as Daniel’s 70th week and “Jacob’s Trouble”). When you read all Scripture in context the Tribulation period is about God dealing with Israel's sin and the rejection of Messiah--Jesus. It is a period that has nothing to do with the Church, which accepted and received Jesus Christ and is therefore redeemed from all sin through His shed blood. The Tribulation period IS NOT a time to purify the Church as many believe. God's Word clearly says in Romans 8:1 that, "there is therefore now no condemnation (judgment) to those who are in Christ Jesus." Those who are in Christ Jesus is everyone in Christ's Church (all true believers). Regardless of Israel's sin I stand against the popular anti-Semitic movement in the world (and unfortunately in the “church”). This popular movement hates and dispises the Jewish people--it is founded on error of the worst kind and is not supported by God or His Word.
The Prophets Reveal The Future
The Old Testament prophets (esp. Isaiah, Ezekiel. Joel, Zechariah and Daniel) tell about a coming judgment and tribulation (i.e. Jacob's Trouble) period for Israel. The two most detailed references for this tribulation period is found in the book of Daniel (outlined specifically in week 70 of Daniel’s famous “Seventy Weeks” prophecy) and the book of Revelation. The Old Testament prophetic focus for this event is ISRAEL--not the present Church. The Church is declared by the apostle Paul to be a mystery—something unknown in the days of the prophets. An angel tells Daniel that this time of dreadful judgment and reconciliation is to come upon "thy people", meaning the Jewish people—in the last days. It is a period of 7 years appointed to complete God’s dealings with Israel. The first 69 weeks of Daniel’s 70 weeks (each week is a “week of years”) are already fulfilled. In the late 1800’s, Sir Robert Anderson, Inspector of Scotland Yard and a student of Bible prophecy proved that the first 69 weeks (covering 483 years) of Daniel’s 70 week prophecy was fulfilled at the crucifixion of Jesus Christ—where Daniel said it would end over 2500 years ago. However, something strange happened after Israel rejected Christ. The prophetic clock in the prophecy foretold by Daniel stopped. The last week of years (Daniel’s 70th week) was temporarily frozen. Yet, God’s integrity and character in His Word guarantees that this last week will be fulfilled. If this is true—what’s going on?
Most don’t stop to realize that under the New Testament two “administrations” were in progress at the same time: Israel and the Church. They are not the same nor does God ever treat them as being the same. God’s plan was for Israel to accept her Messiah, repent and believe in the gospel. If they did this as a nation, he would establish His kingdom with Israel and they would become a “light to the gentile world”. Salvation would flow from Israel (specifically Jerusalem) to the rest of the world. This was God’s original plan.
"For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee (Israel) to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth." (Acts 13:47 KJV)
When Israel rejected and crucified Jesus -- then refused to repent for this horrible sin, God set into motion a change in plans. Jesus alludes to this by saying…
"…and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." (Matt 16:18 KJV)
The apostle Paul also sheds light on this monumental shift in God’s plans when he said…
"And the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God. But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming. Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles." (Acts 13:44-46 KJV)
God already knew from the beginning of time that Israel would reject their Messiah. The Old Testament prophets foretold it. God already knew what He was going to do when the rejection occurred. Yet, justice demanded that He allow things to progress to the final outcome. Israel had to make a choice to accept or reject their Messiah. Therefore, God had two plans in waiting. One plan was the Kingdom of Israel (if they accepted Messiah) -- the other plan was the Church (if Israel rejected Messiah). The "Church plan" was a mystery that only God knew about. The New Testament says that if Satan had known about this hidden mystery (Christ's new covenant Church) he would have never crucified the Lord of Glory (1 Cor. 2:7-8). God wasn’t surprised or caught off guard, because the “mystery” was hidden in God's mind where no man could see. When Israel’s final rejection of the Messiah came, God froze the prophetic time clock with Israel and allowed the Church Age to come forth. Some Bible scholars agree that the age of the Church was inserted between Daniel’s 69th and 70th week. This means that the final 70th week (a 7 year period) will be restarted and fulfilled when the time of the Church (also known as the time of the Gentiles) is completed. The Old Testament prophets could not foresee this event because God calls the Church and the new covenant that governs it “a mystery” or a secret (Rom. 16:25-27). Israel was temporarily broken off (Rom. 11) and the gentiles were grafted into God’s Olive tree. Yet, God said that, at some future time, He will graft Israel back in and all of Israel will be saved (Rom. 11). The new covenant Church, made up of both Jews and Gentiles, is given a special apostle. His name is Saint Paul. Paul's writings, which define Christ's new covenant (also known as his "epistles to the Church") make up nearly one half of the entire New Testament part of our Bible.
The Church Age
The Church Age officially began on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came to dwell in believers in Christ. God called Paul (an Israelite) to be the apostle to the Gentiles (the Church). Paul constantly referred to the second coming of Christ and taught on the "harpazo" and the great "apostasia". These are Greek words used in the New Testament referring to a great departure of the Church (all true believers) from the earth to meet Jesus in the air (1 Thess. 4:16-18). It’s interesting that Paul doesn't mention the coming "Jacob's Trouble" or the Tribulation period (as Daniel illustrated) that is appointed for Israel before the Lord’s return to earth. Paul's silence here seems to indicate that the Church of which he is the apostle (or chief authority) would not experience the Tribulation period (known as Jacob’s Trouble) in any way. If this is not true...if the Church Paul cared for is to go through this horrible tribulation period where more than half of the earth’s population will perish--he would out of necessity and responsibility warn us about it. Instead, Paul encourages us that the time of our departure to meet Jesus in the air is near and refers to this great event (commonly known as the rapture) as the believer’s “Blessed Hope”. Yet, many well meaning people in the Church are confused by Paul’s blessed hope position and teach that the Church will experience this horrendous period of wrath, judgment, death and destruction—either in full measure or in part. Some act as if it’s a blessing or special honor for us to go through this trial. Others see it as a needed time of "testing" and "purification" for the Church. Yet, God does not take this position for many reasons. I am mystified that so many Christians (actually a majority) are “tribulation saint” wannabes. I’ve met many of them and they are sincere and authentic believers in Christ. You can have a skewed understanding of end-time events and still be a Christian! Yet, there’s a kind of “super-spiritual” mentality that comes across when you try to tell them that the Bible gives the believer a “Blessed Hope” by allowing them to miss this horrible time of judgment. You are made to think that if you hold to the “Blessed Hope” (Pre-tribulation) belief you’re somehow spiritually immature or dishonoring God by wanting to escape judgment and destruction. Yet, this attitude is common in the modern church because of wrong teaching and religious tradition. You see, the Church (Christ’s earthly body) is not appointed to the judgment of Jacob’s trouble—Israel is. The Church received Jesus--Israel rejected Him. Israel and the Church are under different covenants—they are not the same! Part of our heritage and identity as the body of Christ and possessors of Abraham’s blessings (Gal. 3:13-14) is escaping this coming judgment under the provision of the blood covenant of Jesus Christ (the new covenant). The Tribulation period is NOT a blessing or an honor. God says that the horrors of this time will be like no other—and Jesus will appear to cut the time short in order to keep all mankind from being destroyed. Paul said we’re not appointed to this wrath (judgment), but to obtain salvation (1 Thess. 5:9, Rom. 8:1). To a rational person you would think this is welcomed news—good news! Yet, many don’t see it that way. Going through the Tribulation period where the anti-Christ is given power and authority to overcome and destroy the saints of God is worn as some kind of “badge of honor”. It seems to be more an expression of spiritual pride where we take the macho position that, “I’m a soldier of Christ, bless God, and I’m going to overcome this Tribulation period regardless of what Satan does”. That sounds spiritual until you learn that the Tribulation period is not God’s will for you as a member of Christ’s Church. At that point your “spirituality” becomes a distortion of God’s character.
"Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth." (Rev 3:10 KJV)
"Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man." (Luke 21:36 KJV)
Much of the idea that the Church will go through the Tribulation comes from a false teaching called “replacement theology”. The rest of the misinformation comes from a failure to “rightly divide God’s Word” by combining the great “departure of the Church” to meet Jesus in the air with the physical Second Coming of Christ to the earth (they are two separate phases of Christ’s Second Coming). Jesus only returns to the earth once but that event is preceded by His appearance in the air 7 years earlier when he is united with his body—the Church. Since other writers address replacement theology in detail I will not say much about it in this article. Briefly, replacement theology teaches that because Israel rejected her Messiah—God has permanently replaced her with the Church. This disastrous, yet popular belief forces many Biblical doctrines to be redefined. It is religious deception at its worst. Over the last 2000 years unbiblical religious traditions have been created around this belief, which include legalistic practices involving the Mosaic Law that distort God’s Gospel of grace. Under replacement theology the Church is now and forever Israel—and Scripture is twisted and removed from its context to make it look that way (God help us). This dangerous teaching, which is embraced by many in the modern Christian world not only ignores Paul‘s warning concerning this wrong belief in Romans chapter 11, but also lays the foundation for a new form of anti-Semitism that is spreading like wildfire throughout the earth.
Is Christ Subject To Judgment Again?
The Church is called "the Body of Christ" and believers are all members of it. (1 Cor. 12:27).
"That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all." (Eph 1:17-23 KJV)
Jesus considers this "earthly body of believers" (the Church) to be equal to Himself. A characteristic of the Lord’s Table (One of the most holiest practice in the Church) is to celebrate the covenant “oneness” between Jesus Christ, His body on earth and the individual members of His body. Oneness means exactly what it says. It’s the Church’s full identity and equality with Jesus Christ who is the head of the body. When Saul (later to be Saint Paul) was persecuting the Church before his conversion, Jesus asked him (when He appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus in Acts 9:4), “Saul, Saul, why persecuteth thou me?” It is obvious that Paul was not persecuting Jesus directly. He was persecuting those who believed in Him—His earthly body. Since this is such a plainly stated fact here and in other parts of the New Testament the question must be asked...Is Christ (his earthly body) to be subject to a judgment that God said is aimed only at Israel’s transgression and a wicked world system? The new covenant clearly says that these issues can NEVER be brought to bear against the Church, the Body of Christ. Paul declares that sin no longer has dominion over the Church—that the Church (Body of Christ) is not under law but under grace and therefore NOT under sin’s dominion. It is our legal foundation for escaping all future judgment for sin—including the Tribulation period. This is an important question when you consider that Jesus Christ completed ALL the work for our redemption on the cross and said, “It is finished”. By saying that Christ’s body (who is Christ and “one” with Christ) must suffer the judgment of the Tribulation—it’s an admission that Jesus didn’t really bear all of the judgment for our sins and that we must endure more judgment along with Israel. Those who say the Church is going through the Tribulation always downplay the horror and destruction and give a false hope that God will somehow protect us from these trials as they occur around us. God does protect us—He protects us by removing us from the scene! Two Biblical examples are Noah and Lot. When you view things from the perspective that Christ finished our redemption--those preaching a mid-trib, post-trib or pre-wrath position on the rapture are asking you to subtly redefine a core element of our redemption. Yet, the truth remains—Jesus finished the work—He bore our judgment once for all—We are not appointed to experience the judgment of the Tribulation period, which is Paul’s whole point in 1 Thess. 5:9. The answer to these arguments should be obvious. Yet, religious tradition and erroneous beliefs concerning God’s character blind many sincere authentic Christians to embrace a doctrine about the end times that is not supported by God’s Word and the finished work of Jesus Christ—but it can be easily twisted to look “Scriptural”.
The Prophetic Clock Starts
In Mark 11:13 Jesus curses a fig tree and it withers from the roots up. Many Bible students believe (as I do) that this act is symbolic of God’s future actions toward the nation of Israel because of her lack of fruit, disobedience and rejection of the Messiah. In A.D. 70, as Jesus prophesied, Israel was uprooted, Jerusalem and the temple are destroyed, the Jews are dispersed throughout the world (many killed) and Israel ceased to exist as a nation. Later, in Matthew chapter 24, Jesus is answering questions from his disciples about the signs of the end times--and again He used a fig tree as an analogy. However, this time Jesus uses a budding fig tree (shooting out leaves) as an analogy for Israel suggesting that the main sign of the beginning of the last days is the re-establishment of Israel as a nation after nearly 2000 years. Historians and mathematicians estimate that the odds of Israel coming back into her own land surrounded by Arab countries committed to her destruction after such devastation (and fulfilling many Old Testament prophecies spoken by various different authors) were literally trillions to one. Yet, in 1948 Israel, once again, appears on the world scene--the fig tree is budding again. The nation of Israel is one time marker that Jesus provided to indicate the nearness of his return. Many students of the end times believe (as I do) that Jesus gave a time limit of one generation. The generation that witnesses the signs Jesus gave beginning with the re-birth of Israel would not pass away until He returned (to earth). Clearly, the prophetic clock has started again. The re-birth of Israel is only one time marker. The other signs mentioned in Daniel’s prophecy concerning a peace treaty with the anti-Christ (Israel’s covenant with hell) and Saint Paul’s teaching about the necessity of having the Church removed from the earth before the “man of perdition” (the anti-Christ) could be revealed (2 Thess. 2:1-10)—and comparing these things to recent news concerning the Middle East warn that Christ’s Second Coming, including the beginning of the Tribulation period are very near.
Why is this generation important? Saint Paul taught about a final generation of the Church that would not physically die but would be removed from the earth after their bodies are changed (in the twinkling of an eye) from mortal to immortal. This group coincides with the last generation Jesus spoke about in Matthew 24. The event is called “the rapture of the Church” (I like to think of it as the “departure of the Church”) and the Christian’s “Blessed Hope”. It occurs before the Tribulation period foretold in Daniel's prophecy. The rapture begins with a bodily resurrection of all those who died “in Christ” (graves give up their dead—imagine this scene!) and concludes with a “catching away” or departure of all those true Christians who are alive and remain on earth. Both groups join together to meet Jesus in the air. There is no prophecy that needs to be fulfilled before this event. According to the Biblical timetable it is imminent.
The End-Time Stage
Daniel’s prophecy tells about a group of ten nations that will emerge from the revived Roman Empire. Out of this group of ten nations a “little horn” (some kind of world leader) will emerge and establish a 7-year peace agreement with Israel and her neighbors that allow the rebuilding of the Jewish temple. This little horn represents the anti-Christ (false deliverer). He walks on the scene under a banner of peace but after 3 ½ years breaks the agreement and declares himself as God in the Jewish temple. This story is currently unfolding in the Middle East.
It is not the goal of this article to discuss the details of this plot. There is much speculation in Christian circles about the course of these events. Many popular "Eschatologists" (Students and interpreters of Biblical end-time events) are watching the European Union as the stage for this drama because it is an upcoming world power center. Yet, Daniel’s prophecy and the nations involved are in the Middle East -- Not Western Europe. The EU watchers (the majority) do so because Western Europe emerged out of the old Roman Empire. Yet, Western Europe only represents one leg (the western leg) of that empire. There is also an eastern leg of the old Roman Empire that includes most of the modern Middle East nations, which includes Israel. This other leg (the eastern leg) matches the stage of Daniel’s vision -- and I see plenty of evidence that Daniel's drama may be playing on that stage.
Jesus told us to watch, be aware of the times -- and don't get caught by surprise. Watch Israel (God's Time Clock) and the Middle East. The time of Christ's return is near.
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