I’m going to deal with a question that comes up frequently in our computer correspondence and in churches where I speak. That question is about End Times Prophecy and the series of events that come about for the Believers. The following material was skillfully reduced for publication by my son, Aaron, an excellent editor.
The Church seems to often focus on the future of unbelievers. The oncoming Tribulation Period, the actions of the Antichrist, and Armageddon are repeatedly taught, as if they are the Believer’s main concerns.
Studying the Tribulation is very important, since it signals the culmination of God’s plan and the return of our Lord. But it’s more pleasant to think of those entering Heaven during that period, and later returning with God to populate His Kingdom on earth. The hallmark of Christianity is our bright future. What we see is not all we get. Earthly life is of little significance to those who have been promised the Kingdom to come. We’re already living our eternal lives, and this is the worst part of them.
II. The Rapture: What is it?
The Rapture of the Church is the moment when Jesus will come and take the Believers with Him to heaven. This promise of Christianity distinguishes it from worldly religions. Buddha and Mohammed won’t be making another appearance. Cults last about as long as their founders exist. But followers of Christ are assured deliverance to come — true deliverance of the Chosen People to the Promised Land.
It’s sad that there are churches which haven’t disclosed the Rapture to their members. Liberal churches which have put away the Bible, losing the prime promise of Jesus, and they live on in a pathetic “Christian ethic” — a meaningless and powerless copy of life in Christ. But those aware of the Rapture and awaiting Jesus’ return will live in a new Kingdom in an ongoing eternal life.
“Rapture,” borrowed from the Latin Vulgate Bible, appears in the King James as “caught up” (I Thess. 4:17). Verses 16–18 contain the prime promise of Jesus’ return. Verse 18 isn’t quoted often, but should be, for what is more comforting than knowing we’ll go beyond this life and “ever be with the Lord”?
On His last Passover night, Jesus indicated His departure from the Church, promising to return again:
Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in Me. 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 14:1-3).
After His resurrection and forty days with His Disciples, Jesus rose to His Father, repeating His promise (Acts 1:9–11). In these final forty days, the Lord taught not so much how to behave, as about witnessing to all men in preparation for the Kingdom to come (Acts 1:9).
The men in verse 10 were angels, come to assure the Disciples that in just the manner they had seen the Lord ascend — into Heaven — He would return. Thus, the Lord will not return “in a spiritual way” or “in your heart,” but literally in the manner that He left, bodily and miraculously.
In the same way Jesus spent His last moments on earth, we also should focus on the Kingdom to come, which starts with the Rapture. We learn more about the Rapture from 1 Cor. 15:22–23. Everyone “born of Adam” dies, but those in Christ will be resurrected. It also indicates that we have an order, which ties in with “the dead in Christ will rise first.” Jesus’ number was one, and He is called the “first fruits” as He is the first man permanently resurrected. First fruits is the third Jewish feast, Resurrection Sunday, which we have come to call “Easter.” Referring to it as “first fruits,” we realize there is a second, third, etc. We’re all numbered, and will rise in that order in the Rapture. The dead in Christ, having lower numbers, will rise first.
We will undergo a mysterious metamorphosis: we will be outfitted for eternal life, as our present bodies won’t do for that (I Cor. 15:51–53). Death is the common fear of all mortals — except for the true Believer. Paul exults in the face of death in verses 55-57. After the Rapture is accomplished, we’re ready for the exciting events of our seven years in heaven, as the Tribulation Period takes place on earth. (The Rapture is more fully covered in my books, Raptured, with Dr. Thomas S. McCall and The Signs of the End.)
Once we’re in Heaven with Jesus, we have important matters to transact. We are not issued wings and harps, but instead have a momentous conference with the Lord — aimed at preparing us for our wedding. We, the bride of Christ, shall become the Lord’s wife.
The first event is a review of our earthly lives (II Cor. 5:10). Each of us meets individually and privately with the Lord at this “Judgment Seat” in order to evaluate our lives on earth. The emphasis is not on our sins, which are forgiven, but on our works. Believers are saved “unto good works”, and have responsibilities as disciples of Christ. If not for our appointed tasks on earth, we could have gone to Heaven the moment we were saved. As it is, we will or will not have accomplished certain assignments, according to our gifts.
Paul expounds on the standards in the Judgment Seat of Christ, and how our works are reckoned (I Cor. 3:11–13). He writes that no foundation for this life can be laid outside of that in Christ. (Good works done outside of Christ by unbelievers are not relevant to this Scripture because unbelievers won’t be going to Heaven. Those works, plus sins, are presented at the Great White Throne of Judgment, after the Kingdom.)
Paul next divides our works into two categories, “gold, silver, and precious stones,” and “wood, hay, and stubble” — two very different rankings of quality. Jesus will test all of our works with fire. The analogy is clear, as fire certainly shows the difference between works of gold, silver, and precious stones, and those of wood, hay, and stubble. That is the real purpose of the Judgment Seat.
Each Believer has a life of great variety to present to God, and we are not always sure ourselves just which of our works are of high value in Heaven. We recall from the Gospels the story of the man who prayed, fasted, and thanked God that he was not like the poor beggar who lay on his face at the back of the synagogue, while the beggar plead to God, “Have mercy on me, a sinner.” As the Lord explained, it was found that the beggar’s humility and plea for mercy were the real gold, silver, and precious stones, while the hypocrisy of wood, hay, and stubble belonged to the supposedly righteous man in the front.
Paul then states our rewards for the works that survive the fire (I Cor. 3:14), jewels for our crowns. The rewards of the Christian come at the end of this life, in Heaven, not on the earth. Paul also says we shall suffer loss for our works of wood, hay and stubble in verse 15. We note the phrase “but he himself shall be saved.” God is clear that salvation is a free gift, not an earned prize; we cannot lose our salvation by bad works or sins, which were forgiven when we believed in Christ. We will suffer loss of our rewards, in effect, for our bad works, but we won’t fall back out of Heaven. Peter thought the heavy net of fish he had “caught up” might break, and some fish fall back in the water (John 21:11). But the Lord had selected the fish on this occasion, and none were lost once they were caught up.
The fire does not consume the Believer, for God has fire that does not totally burn up, such as the Burning Bush and the Lake of Fire. The fire is only to purify away the bad works, as fire sterilizes bacteria in foods. The Judgment Seat of Christ is to prepare us as a spotless bride for our Lord (II Cor. 11:2). If we still had the memory of bad works we had done in our lifetimes of service, we would have, as it were, a guilty conscience, and would not be the pure virgins the Lord requires. The Judgment Seat is the final preparation for the marriage supper of the Lamb. Just as earthly brides adorn themselves in finest garments, so we will go before the Lord cleansed of all bad works, forgiven, and in that sense, as perfect as He is Himself.
It surprises many Believers that we will then be, in our purity, equal to Christ. But that is our destiny, the Scripture is clear. Christ could not marry less a bride than He Himself, and we shall reign with Him in the Kingdom as the Queen on the earth.
This, then, is true Christianity, a transcendence of this worldly life, state, body, mind, and all worldly labor — we trade it all for eternal bliss in the presence of God Himself in Christ Jesus.
IV. The Marriage
Now we are ready to marry the Lord.
It’s fascinating to compare these events with Israel’s wedding traditions in Christ’s time. There was a seven-day honeymoon in a bridal chamber for the bride and groom, preceding the marriage supper. This pertains exactly to the seven years in Heaven and the Judgment Seat of Christ, leading up to marriage with Him. (The Jewish wedding and all of its Gospel implications are explained fully in the booklet, A Christian Love Story.)
John covers the marriage scene for us in two glorious verses (Rev. 19:7–8). The white linen bridal gowns we shall wear fulfill a fascinating Bible type that reaches back to the Tabernacle of ancient Israel (Exodus 25–30). In the Tabernacle, plain white linen symbolized pure righteousness. The linen curtains around the entire Tabernacle, the tent, as it were, were pure white. Therefore, no one could enter through the sides or rear, because no one was perfectly righteous. The door of the Tabernacle was sewn with the colors of Christ — scarlet, purple, and blue threads, indicating sacrifice, royalty, and Heaven. The Israelites entered by the door, so symbolically, they were entering by means of the Messiah.
Jesus said, I am the door: by Me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture (John 10:9). Messianic colors were worn by the priests, and also appeared in the hangings of various courts and in roof coverings.
But now, the Church shall wear white! — “Fine linen, clean and white, for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.” That we now appear in pure white testifies to our final perfection. Paul compared earthly marriage to Christ’s marrying the Church (Eph. 5:21–33). Ultimately, we will see the result of the apostles’ exhortation of the infant Church.
After we marry the Lord, we’ll reign with Him in His Kingdom on earth. This is exactly the way the bride returned with her groom after an Israeli marriage, to housing he had arranged for them — outside of his father’s house. (Some teach that the wedding will be on earth after we return, and others have it in Heaven with the marriage supper on earth (Rev. 19:7–8).
V. The Return
Jesus’ return to earth is glorious in the Scriptures (Rev. 19:11–16). The Church initially comes as an army to stop the battle of Armageddon.
After that battle will come the judgment of those who lived during the Tribulation, and the rewarding of those who refused the mark of the Antichrist (Rev. 20:4–5).
John exults in our taking part in this first resurrection and reigning with Christ through the Kingdom Age (v. 6).
While still on earth, Jesus taught more on this judgment, which serves as an immigration office into the Kingdom. He means to judge every soul alive during the seven years of the Tribulation. All nations will be before Him, the Believers separated from the unbelievers as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. (See Matt. 25:31–34.)
The Believers will be surprised they had so honored Jesus (Matt. 25:37–40). If the nations of the world, even during the Tribulation, express faith in Christ by caring for His brethren (the 144,000 of Israel who witness during that hard time), they will be saved. But the judgment is equal, and devastating, upon those who failed to honor the Lord during the reign of the Antichrist (vs. 45–46).
The Old Testament saints are also gathered at the start of the Kingdom Age, so the Kingdom begins with rather a mixed crowd, who yet all share sincere belief in their Messiah and King (Romans 3:25).
Since the Believers of the Tribulation Period did not come to faith before the Rapture, they were not changed, but remain as before, marrying and giving in marriage, and giving birth to ordinary, fleshly sinners “born of Adam.” In the end, some of these will disobey the Lord’s commands, and Scripture poses certain penalties (e.g., Zech. 14:16–19).
These mischief-makers in the Kingdom, having multiplied, will be rallied by Satan in the very last battle at the end of the thousand years (Rev. 20:7–9). This, Satan’s last rebellion, is unsuccessful, and the Great White Throne of Judgment is set up for all who were confined with him, and the unbelievers of all ages (vs. 11–15). The “second death” referred to is avoided by Believers, who are exonerated and do not have to appear in the Judgment.
VI. The Kingdom
This great millennium is the true reward of the Church, and will be quite a different age than we are experiencing now. Things will be socially “upside-down.” It will be “sophisticated” to be a Christian, foolish to be an unbeliever. The King Himself shall reign in Jerusalem with us, His Queen.
Jesus took all His teaching from the Old Testament; there was no New Testament at the time He taught His disciples “the things pertaining to the Kingdom.” The great passages of Isaiah and the other prophets make clear this magnificent age of God’s triumph. The New Testament therefore assumes its readers understand the Kingdom, and so, it virtually begins with the Sermon on the Mount, teaching both admission to and laws of the Kingdom, and then its joys (the Beatitudes, in Matt. 5, etc.). See Isaiah 11:4–9.
Isaiah 12 contains the most beautiful and concise description of the Kingdom in the whole Bible. The themes of the Kingdom are the constant company of the Messiah, total triumph of the saints, and justice and mercy throughout the earth.
After the Kingdom and the Great White Throne of Judgment, the Believers live on in eternity. God will change Heaven, earth, and Jerusalem (Rev. 21:1–3) — no more seas or water, and therefore no more life as we now know it.
The very end of the Scriptures, as John describes in his Revelation, become symbolic, and almost incomprehensible. We can sample John’s description of eternity in Rev. 21:1–7. One notable feature is that there will be no Temple (v. 22). There is no need for further sacrifice, or, in effect, for further worship. Everyone will be at one with God, and approach Him directly, as did Adam before the fall.
Another interesting feature of eternity is new light. Light was the first thing God created, but now there will be no need of the sun or moon, because God and the Lamb provide the light (Rev. 21:23).
But perhaps the most striking feature of all is that there will be no evil — anywhere. While there was a certain amount of rebellion even in the Kingdom, eternity will be utterly free of it (Rev. 21:26–27).
And remember, this is only the beginning!
John, after seeing all these things, wrote that the thing to do was to pray now for the soon coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. John the Apostle, New Testament Saint, and member of the Church awaited the Rapture fervently — and so should we. The conclusion of the Bible is a more-than-fitting conclusion for this discussion. John’s final prayer must be our ultimate prayer. In view of all he had seen in this stunning Revelation of Jesus Christ, John uttered simply:
He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen (Rev. 22:20–21).